Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

Consultant envisions K-7 as freeway

December 9, 2004

— Kansas Highway 7 should be upgraded to a freeway in its entirety, from Mary Street in Lansing to 223rd Street in Olathe, a consulting firm said in its preliminary recommendation to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Consultants with HNTB Corp., the Overland Park-based company hired by the Transportation Department, said they made their recommendation based on projected growth in traffic, on K-7 and any local streets near its path.

The news was given at a lunchtime meeting Wednesday in Bonner Springs of the K-7 Advisory Council, which is made up of state transportation officials and officials from communities that line the highway.

Lansing and Leavenworth County officials in attendance welcomed the announcement.

"Boy, that was a shocker," Mayor Kenneth Bernard said. "We're happy with the preliminary decision and hope it stays that way."

Leavenworth County Commissioner Don Navinsky, who also attended, said the decision was an important one for people in northern parts of the county.

"Not only the folks in Lansing and Leavenworth, but I've got constituents in Easton, Kickapoo, Alexandria and High Plains who are looking for a way to get to the turnpike - and K-7 is pretty much all they've got," he said.

Lansing officials feared the recommendation would be for building an "urban arterial" - a six-lane highway with stoplights and frequent access points. Such a decision, they reasoned, would only slow travel into suburban Johnson County, especially as commercial areas develop along the highway.

Officials representing Wyandotte County and Bonner Springs had pressed for the urban arterial for the northern segment of K-7, which runs from Mary Street in Lansing to the Kansas Turnpike. They had expressed sentiment that a high-speed-only highway with restricted access points would deter economic development.

Mike Smith, Lansing city administrator, said he thought the access issues could be best addressed by building frontage roads along K-7.

"We've talked about a frontage road all the way from Lansing to Wyandotte County," Smith said, "but the last thing I want to do is see another Metcalf."

Metcalf Avenue, a street lined with businesses in Overland Park, doubles as U.S. Highway 169 and is filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Joe Brand, an HNTB engineer, said the report would set the stage for the second phase of the study, which will include determining how to phase in improvements and where to put access points. He said there would be opportunities in the coming months to make changes to the preliminary recommendation.

"I want to emphasize preliminary," he said. "We are, after all, working with limited budget."

While the study is budgeted, the Transportation Department has no funds allocated toward construction or renovation.

The department began re-evaluating the highway in 2003 when it became apparent that residential and commercial developers were taking an interest in building on properties along K-7.

The recommendation going to the state transportation officials, Brand said, pointed out that leaving K-7 in its current state is unacceptable. HNTB projects that, with anticipated traffic growth, by 2030 it would take more than two hours to drive from the Johnson-Miami County line to Lansing along K-7 if nothing is done; today it takes about 40 minutes.

"No-build is not an option," he said.

Brand said a key element of Phase II of the study would be to work with local officials on issues affecting their communities.

"Where will the access points be and how do we improve the local streets to accommodate them?" he said.

Lansing's mayor said such discussions would be key to planning issues as the commercial development moves in along the highway.

"It's critical to me to know where the exits will be off the freeway so that we can get working on frontage roads," Bernard said. "We don't want to build something (along the highway) and not be able to get to it."

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