Drive west on 143rd Street between Quivira and Pflumm roads, and suddenly the four-lane road narrows into a two-lane rural road. Olathe owns the south half of this mile-long stretch, Overland Park the north — and many complain that it’s time for the cities to work together to modernize the road. It’s old, they say. And prone to accidents, such as one that claimed the life of Olathe East High School senior Nate Trinkle when the vehicle he was in veered off the road and into a guardrail and tree.
“It’s just an old country road that was built long before all the housing development was going on,” said Kristy Hane, who lives on the Olathe side of 143rd Street. “I know the road was here even before our neighborhood was built. We just feel like it wasn’t intended to carry this much traffic.”
Officials from both Olathe and Overland Park say that the road’s need for improvement has little to do with accident rates and that progress is moving at a normal rate. Normal is just slow, officials said.
“Widening out the road is a major multimillion-dollar project,” said Overland Park city traffic engineer Brian Shields. “Obviously it takes longer.”
Both municipalities say that eventually making the two-lane road into a four-lane one is a slow-moving priority.
Overland Park city engineer Dan Miller said that improving this section of road has been approved in Overland Park’s 2013-2017 capital improvement plan, although the road’s ultimate design won’t be finalized until 2015. Construction would be finished two to three years after that.
Progress depends on Olathe, which hasn’t budgeted funding yet. This project is currently not in Olathe’s capital improvement plan, but it will be as soon as the city can find funding, said Olathe city engineer Mary Jaeger.
“Obviously, the economy is not that great right now,” Jaeger said. “But we’re always looking for opportunities to squeeze in projects.”
Jaeger said it’s very possible for the city to find funding by 2015, which is necessary because improvement costs need to be split 50/50. Right now, Jaeger said Olathe is focusing on improving 127th and Pflumm, a road similar to this section of 143rd.
Miller doesn’t think things would move faster if Overland Park did not have to negotiate with Olathe.
“Olathe has never indicated that they won’t improve it,” Miller said.
City officials from both communities don’t think that this area is more prone to accidents than similar roads. Between the years of 2009-2011, the stretch of road between Quivira and Pflumm on 143rd had about 35 accidents. In that same time, there were about 60 accidents on the stretch of 127th between Quivira and Pflumm in Overland Park.
There have been five accidents between Quivira and Pflumm on 143rd in 2012, two of which were caused by deer.
The accidents that do occur on 143rd Street often stem from people being careless, said Olathe traffic unit supervisor Sgt. Dave Haldeman. The road itself is fine, he said. It doesn’t have potholes. Guardrails make up for the lack of a shoulder.
“If you are paying attention, if you are following the law, there is no reason for anything to go wrong,” Haldeman said. “I do eight passes of that road a day. I can’t tell you the number of the people on their cell, playing with their phone.”
Still, nearby residents such as Olathe’s Mike Kuckelman say that while the city has been responsive to concerns, growing traffic makes the need for improvements all the more necessary.
“West of Pflumm it is improved and is a fantastic road,” Kuckelman said. “West of Quivira it is improved and is a fantastic road. Between Quivira and Pflumm it is a terrible road.”
Hane said neighbors were particularly concerned about a hill on 143rd that makes turning onto the road from the subdivisions especially frightening.
“People are always turning out of our neighborhood and narrowly getting missed by cars from the west,” Hane said.
Sgt. Haldeman said change will come in due time.
“It’s like any rural route,” he said. “There’s a time and place where it will get improved.”
To reach Katy Bergen, call 816-234-4856 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.