On Dec. 7, 1995, four out of five Johnson County commissioners voted to kill plans for the 21st Century Parkway. They were roundly criticized by civic leaders, and I wrote several columns in opposition to their decision. I think I called it the flub of the century.
Now, in retrospect, it seems like those commissioners — including Annabeth Surbaugh, who was county chairwoman — were right.
We do not now need a freeway that would have run 36 miles across the southern part of the county.
And we may not need it ever.
Interstate 435, which handles 136,000 vehicles a day between Metcalf Avenue and Interstate 35, is quite adequate to handle the east-west traffic.
Even with projections from the Kansas Department of Transportation of 214,000 vehicles a day in 2040, officials there told me that I-435 could handle that load, even in peak rush hours. That is because of the installation of traffic lights at entrance ramps, as well as electronic signs that alert drivers to traffic jams, which they can then avoid by exiting.
There has been some discussion about planning for a new southern loop, clear out south to the Miami County line.
But Department of Transportation officials say that the further out the road is, the less demand there will be for it. Current traffic flows would make such a loop out of the way for drivers.
Another reason why such a southern loop may be unnecessary is because of a plan approved in 1999 called CARNP (Comprehensive Arterial Road Network Plan).
I served on the CARNP task force, which spent about a year coming up with a plan to get southern residents east to west faster than the current two-lane roads, but without a freeway.
The result is a wiggle-waggle of road widening on current streets that gets you from here to there, driving about 50 mph.
The two main arteries that would become four-lane roads, including landscaping and bike trails, would be 199th Street and 175th Street
Our current County Chairman Ed Eilert is in agreement that a southern loop is not a high priority.
“Frankly,” Eilert said, “The south county loop is not high on my radar.”
What is on his radar is a different problem in a different place.
Eilert does not think we have an east-west issue. Rather, we have a north-south issue.
Said Eilert, “I think the effort for the foreseeable future should be a north-south road on the west side of the county, connecting K-10 in the DeSoto area with I-35 in the area of Edgerton, and then the second leg would extend north from K-10 to the turnpike.”
Eilert’s visionary evaluation of future needs is driven, to a large extent, by the BNSF Intermodal facility to open in Edgerton, in the southwest part of the county. It will create a lot of traffic, both of cars and trucks.
“This could remove a lot of intermodal traffic from I-35,” said Eilert.
In the meantime, Eilert’s concept, were it to be implemented, would probably take decades, given other priorities, according to a KDOT official.
Right now, we have a lot to chew on, with the $600 million “Gateway” intersection at I-35, I-435 and Kansas 10; plus the next phase of U.S. 69 expansion that runs through the spine of Overland Park; as well as the expansion of Kansas 10.
By the way, these projects will not create sprawl. They will handle the current and near-future needs of a fast-growing county.
| Special to The Star