Archive for Thursday, October 30, 2003

Expressway or freeway? The debate continues

Basehor officials meet with Unified Government to discuss future of K-7 corridor

October 30, 2003

This week's meeting regarding the Kansas Highway 7 corridor may have provided a glimpse of what's in store for next week when representatives of cities along the highway meet with the Kansas Department of Transportation.

From 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 4, representatives of cities along K-7 -- Basehor and Bonner Springs included -- will meet at the department of transportation office in Bonner Springs to discuss the future of the highway.

In preparation for the Nov. 4 meeting, Basehor city officials and developers met Tuesday, Oct. 28 with Fred Backus, an engineer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

The meeting between the sides stemmed from a similar meeting at Bonner Springs City Hall earlier this month. There, officials and developers from Basehor, Bonner Springs, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties gathered to discuss each other's needs and wishes for the highway.

This week's meeting boiled down, simply, to what's been argued for years concerning K-7 -- freeway or expressway.

Specifically, should the highway be improved to accommodate a free flow of traffic as provided by a freeway, or should the highway be adapted to highlight commercial and residential development?

For the sake of clarity, a freeway is a high-speed highway with no intersections; an expressway is also a high-speed highway with a limited number of intersections.

As noticed by the most recent meeting on Oct. 28, each municipality along the corridor has varying interests, and there seems to be no easy answer to the question of the highway's future.

Sections of the easternmost lane of K-7 fall under the jurisdiction of the Unified Government. The interests of Basehor along K-7 are confined between Parallel and Fairmount roads.

The two sides had opposing theories on what concept the stretch of highway they share should be improved under.

Wyandotte County is in the process of designing an interchange at Donohoo Road and Interstate 435. The project is federally funded. To connect motorists with that interchange, Wyandotte County is suggesting an interchange at Donohoo Road and K-7.

A freeway -- a concept Wyandotte County isn't sold on but has planned for, Backus said -- might best accommodate that.

"We see the numbers projected in the traffic volumes, and it screams this needs to be a freeway," the engineer said.

The county also sought diamond interchanges every two miles along K-7.

For Basehor, the needs along K-7 are simple -- the city wants access to the roadway for future developments and the reopening of Falcon Lakes Parkway. Put simply, Basehor wants K-7 developed as an expressway.

Falcon Lakes Parkway is a $1.4 million access road inside the Falcon Lakes residential area and golf course on K-7. Developers of the subdivision received approval from the transportation department to build the road. However, nearly two years ago, the department ordered the road barricaded, citing safety concerns.

The road provided easy access and attractive highway exposure to Falcon Lakes; the access road is also necessary for the success of another planned commercial development near Falcon Lakes, the Zarda Center.

The Zarda Center is an 80-acre commercial area just east of Falcon Lakes. Developer Tom Zarda has previously said he will not develop his property without access to Falcon Lakes Parkway, heightening the need for city officials to regain use of the road.

"Falcon Lakes Parkway is not our only concern but it is a major one," Basehor mayor Joseph Scherer said.

"We don't have any more options and we're looking to protect what we have," the mayor added.

Tom Zarda and Falcon Lakes owner Rustom Ferzandi attended the K-7 meeting Tuesday. Both spoke of the importance of reopening Falcon Lakes Parkway.

"I think everybody in this room basically has the thinking that this won't be a freeway," Ferzandi said. "The issue is, nobody can afford it, the state doesn't have the money. It's never going to go forward."

Where the two sides found some wiggle room came when the discussion shifted to placing signalized intersections, instead of the diamond interchanges Wyandotte County sought, every one and a half to two miles along the highway between Parallel and Fairmount roads.

Basehor city officials suggested signalized intersections at Fairmount and Parallel roads, and another at Falcon Lakes Parkway. A lighted intersection at Falcon Lakes Parkway could provide Wyandotte County the same basic function as an interchange at Donohoo and K-7, city officials said.

It was a suggestion broached by Mike Hooper, Basehor city codes administrator. The signalized intersection could provide the best of both worlds for the highway -- fast moving traffic and enough access to support the city's developments.

The alternative would also support Basehor's developments and allow Wyandotte County to commercially expand on its side of the highway.

"Could you imagine the amount of commercial land you're opening up on the Wyandotte County side?" Ferzandi said. "That's more money into the city, into the county, into the state."

There were no firm decision made Tuesday afternoon but more talks between the sides are planned to occur before the Nov. 4 meeting.

Backus said the city's proposal is a good start to solving problems along K-7.

"Certainly it is more palatable than what I envisioned you were talking about," Backus said. "I guess we could reassess our position in that light.

"We're trying to do what's best for our community, both communities," he added.

The engineer may have best summed up feelings of all attending the meeting.

"We want economic development as badly as you," he said. "Certainly, this corridor is ripe for it."

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