Archive for Wednesday, November 24, 2004

State weighing many interests in K-7 design

November 24, 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. Tack on additional help for the project via 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 for 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."

Mayor Kenneth Bernard, who is Lansing's representative on the committee, said the panel had its work cut out for itself.

"It's going to be a tough decision," he said. "Everyone's needs are a little bit different."

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 street with stoplights and frequent access points to nearby developments.

However, during a recent meeting, a new consideration has emerged: a six-lane freeway.

A computer analysis determined that if K-7 were built primarily as a four-lane freeway, certain sections of the highway would be prone to bottleneck to unacceptable levels.

"In some areas, it actually starts to break down," with just four lanes, Blubaugh said.

The state is only nine months into the two-year study. There is not yet a 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.

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, which 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.

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 desires of cities along K-7 are far from uniform: smaller cities contend maintaining K-7 as a high-speed-access-only highway would deter economic development. By contrast, larger cities want to maintain high-speed travel and add a means to compliment existing developments.

Bernard, who sits on the committee, said Lansing's desires for K-7 were rooted in getting to Kansas City as quickly as possible.

"People going from here south to Kansas City don't want to stop at a stoplight every two or three minutes," Bernard said. "The want to get where they're going without interruption."

Bernard said he was certain a consensus could be achieved.

"Something's got to happen with that road. Everybody knows that. It's just a matter of time getting it done," he said.

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