Archive for Thursday, November 18, 2004

Transportation department adds to K-7 options

November 18, 2004

Any doubts as to how serious local and state officials view the Kansas Highway 7 corridor may be alleviated when considering how many groups are participating in a study designed to determine its future use.

Approximately 14 counties or municipalities are aiding the Kansas Department of Transportation, which, in turn, has hired the Overland Park firm HNTB Corp. to participate as well. Tack on additional help for the project via sub consultants hired by HNTB and you've got one massive joint venture.

"The logistics on this takes a lot on (the cities' and counties') part and ours as well," said Joe Blubaugh, public affairs manager of the transportation department. "For the most part, everyone has been pretty involved.

"To get the best plan, it's important that everyone with an interest in K-7 have a voice. It needs to be acceptable to everyone."

The multi-faceted analysis of the highway is currently in the first phase, which will culminate with a preliminary recommendation as to what type of facility K-7 should be planned for in the future.

Until a meeting last week, the two options under the most serious consideration for the corridor were maintaining K-7 as a four-lane freeway or a six-lane urban arterial roadway that would provide more frequent access to nearby developments.

However, during a meeting last week among a technical committee composed of state transportation officials, local representatives and engineers, a new consideration has emerged, Blubaugh said. In some sections of K-7, the committee learned, a six-lane freeway might be necessary.

"In certain sections they might have to look at that," he said. "It's definitely not something that's set in stone. It's just kind of preliminary right now."

Engineers and consultants recently ran computer scenarios, based on existing and possible future developments, to determine the potential traffic patterns K-7 might see if it's renovated as a freeway or urban arterial roadway.

The computer analysis determined that if K-7 is built primarily as a four-lane freeway the level of service in certain sections of the highway would reduce dramatically. The department of transportation bases its level of service on an A through F model; the committee learned that some areas along K-7 would receive an F grade if it's built with only four high-speed lanes.

"People are more attracted to a freeway than they are an urban arterial when they're making their commute," Blubaugh said. "(The committee learned) it could get congested in some areas. In some areas, it actually starts to break down."

The department of transportation is only nine months into the two-year study and, as Blubaugh said, there is not yet any consensus or predominant opinion as to what facility use will best serve the highway, motorists and local communities. That will not be determined in full until the study is completed, possibly by late 2005 or early 2006 Blubaugh said.

"This study is going to show us," he said.

A previous study of the highway, which took into account existing traffic figures and projected traffic counts for the next 20 years, hinted strongly that K-7 should develop as a freeway.

The first phase of the current study will culminate with a preliminary recommendation as to what type of facility K-7 should be. It's the second phase of the study -- a project that will begin next year and attempt to merge the facility type with the interests of individual cities along the highway -- that is expected to draw the most interest.

There is no timetable for when improvements to K-7 might begin. While the study is budgeted, the transportation department has no funds allocated toward construction or renovation.

The department of transportation 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 the roadway.

The desires of cities along K-7 are far from uniform: smaller cities like Basehor and Bonner Springs contend maintaining K-7 as a high-speed-access-only highway would deter economic development. By contrast, cities such as Leavenworth, Lansing and Shawnee want to maintain the high-speed travel K-7 currently provides, but also need a roadway to compliment existing developments.

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