My friend and colleague, Yael Abouhalkah, wrote in his column recently that the “Gateway” Interchange in Johnson County of Interstate 35, Interstate 435, and Kansas 10 — our version of the Grandview Triangle — is “the project from hell.”
He makes several scathing points, but his overarching theme is that the $600 million construction project to handle one of the most congested interchanges in the state of Kansas promotes sprawl.
Sprawl, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder. I see sprawl as desirable economic development.
And development there is mainly to the south in Edgerton. The BNSF Intermodal 1,000-acre development will open for business next year. The intermodal will transfer containers with cargo from places like Asia from railroad cars to trucks.
Not only will truck traffic increase tremendously through the Gateway triangle, but all those employed there will use those roads as well.
It is estimated that the BNSF intermodal will create more than 12,000 new jobs in Johnson County. That’s a lot of new traffic.
The interchange will expand to also handle the increased traffic along Kansas 10 to Lawrence, north to Village West in Wyandotte County, to Missouri in the east and to the redevelopment of downtown to the northeast.
In total, it is projected that the traffic will increase to 380,000 vehicles a day by 2040, compared with nearly a quarter million vehicles a day that travel through that interchange today.
The $600 million project — which will start in 2014 — is the largest undertaking in the history of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
This is something to celebrate, not bemoan.
But Yael sees things from the viewpoint of a loyal urbanite, which is a perspective that is understandable, yet not realistic. Suburbia is here to stay, like it or not. And this is where the growth will be.
When Yael writes that the Gateway interchange project is “anti-transit, anti-biking, and anti-pedestrian,” he is quite right. It is all of those things.
But Johnson County is a low-density, automobile-based suburban community. It does have more than its share of lovely bike and hiking trails. But they are there for recreation and exercise, not as modes of transportation to get to work.
How realistic is it to wish away the cars and trucks? Not very. The design and planning of Johnson County is already set in concrete, pardon the pun.
Yael also states that this kind of development “discourages racial and economic diversity.”
Here’s a news flash. Johnson County is far more ethnically and racially diverse than it was even 10 years ago. And that trend will continue, as minorities continue to move from the inner city to the suburbs.
The project from hell?
If you want to talk about hell, it is not this project that fits that bill. Rather, it is the nightmarish scenario of what that interchange would be like if the state didn’t prioritize these dramatic improvements. It would be bumper-to-bumper traffic forever. Not building the interchange will not make the traffic go away or drive businesses back to the city.
For those who drive through that interchange each day, this eventually will be the project from heaven.
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