Southwest Johnson County is about to change — and government officials want to be prepared. The cities of Gardner and Edgerton, Johnson County, the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Mid-America Regional Council have formed the Southwest Johnson County Area Plan to guide development of the region as a 1,000-acre truck-to-rail intermodal facility is constructed.
Last week, the group sponsored a meeting to seek Johnson County residents’ input — and residents packed Edgerton Community Hall to discuss land-use and planning efforts surrounding the intermodal.
“Tonight’s goal is really to talk — for you to talk to us about your property, your vision for it, your ideas, your concerns … so that we in the planning process can do our best to put this into a plan that provides you a roadmap for the future,” said urban designer Marty Shukert of the Iowa-based RDG Planning & Design, who opened the meeting.
Shukert said it was undeniable that the project would have a large effect on the area. The two main goals, he said, was to minimize the negative impact from the facility, such as environmental damage, and to maximize the benefits that it would bring to the area.
“We need to develop a transportation system in the area that moves people and trucks and vehicles smoothly through it without unwelcome or unintended consequences,” Shukert said.
Shukert said some parts of the plan were already a done deal, such as the $250 million rail-to-truck Burlington Northern Santa Fe intermodal yard and the accompanying $500 million warehouse park, which broke ground this spring and are set to open for business in the summer of 2013.
An Interstate 35 highway interchange also is a given, so that semi-trucks can have quick and easy access to the facility. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the BNSF Intermodal Facility and Logistics Park will generate 17,000 vehicle trips a day, and at least 7,000 of them will be semi-trucks.
Shukert said one of the priorities was making sure that truck traffic didn’t disturb the way of life for residents in the area.
That was a major concern for Carroll Hosch of Gardner, who said she was worried about the effect of lights and traffic near her rural home, where she sells flowers and raises horses.
“When we moved out there and bought 10 acres, we did it with the assumption that it would remain the same,” Hosch said. “You don’t move out to the country to deal with bright lights and big trucks.”
Cass Tucker, who lives off 135th Street and Gardner Road on a country road, also was worried about traffic. The area is full of people who like to walk and ride for exercise and she hopes all the new traffic won’t interfere with that, she said.
“They need to plan for pedestrian traffic all over, not just around the intermodal. I think it would help gain the people’s approval,” Tucker said.
Comments like Tucker’s and Hosch’s were what the meeting was designed to capture. About a dozen officials from the various state and local agencies involved were on hand to answer questions and hear concerns from people who could be affected by the development. Land maps covered tables and walls so that residents could precisely explain to officials where they lived and give ideas for the area.
Edgerton resident Ron Conus, who is a member of the city’s planning commission, said he had talked with residents concerned about train whistles at night and the flow of traffic through the area. The concern is more than the semi-trucks hauling their loads, but also the traffic from the many employees and new businesses that the intermodal will bring to the small Kansas town.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good plan to direct the traffic to I-35, out of the residential areas,” Conus said, and added that although trains would be running at all hours of the day and night to the facility, quiet zones could be implemented so that the trains wouldn’t blow their whistles at night.
In addition to meeting with concerned citizens, organizers collected contact information from everyone who came to the meeting, which was split into two sessions, one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m., with identical presentations at each. They also collected dozens of comment forms to capture feedback, which will be used throughout the planning process.
Using that resident feedback, the study will begin right away and is expected to be done around the same time the intermodal opens in June of 2013.