On 6-5 vote, Prairie Village council votes to make 71st to 75th safety improvements on Mission Road priority for 2016

Traffic zips by the adjacent sidewalk on Mission Road where a retaining wall would make it hard for pedestrians to avoid a vehicle out of control.
Traffic zips by the adjacent sidewalk on Mission Road where a retaining wall would make it hard for pedestrians to avoid a vehicle out of control.

An organized effort by a group of Prairie Village parents appeared to bear fruit Monday as the Prairie Village City Council narrowly approved a recommendation to make pedestrian safety improvements to Mission Road a priority in the city’s 2016 budget — a move that provoked concerns about timing and staff resources from new Mayor Laura Wassmer.

No one on the council disagreed with the idea that the stretch of Mission Road from 71st Street to 75th Street, where the narrow west sidewalk frequently used by St. Ann Catholic School and SM East students lies adjacent to a busy street, needed to be revamped. But a contingent led by the most-tenured members of the governing body — Wassmer and Councilor Ruth Hopkins — argued that a project of that scope and size needed more time for planning, and that following the Public Works department’s recommendation to tackle it in 2017 made more sense.

Wassmer noted that revitalizing Mission Road to make it Prairie Village’s “Main Street” — a vibrant stretch that connected the city’s schools and shopping centers — had been part of the Village Vision plan adopted by the council in 2009. She categorized the reworking of the 71st to 75th Street stretch as part of a bigger overall project, and encouraged the council to allow Public Works to pursue the resurfacing of Mission from 75th Street to 83rd Street as its priority project for the coming year.

Both the 71st Street to 75th Street stretch and the 75th to 83rd Street stretch would be eligible for funding under the county’s County Assistance Road System (CARS) program, where the county pays 50 percent of the construction and inspection costs for improvements to main arterial roads.

“I’m very supportive of this, but I don’t want to knee-jerk jump into this,” Wassmer said of the idea of moving the 71st to 75th Street project into plans for 2016. “I really want to see this be a thought-out project. If we schedule it in 2017, we have time to do it.”

But Ward 3 Councilor Eric Mikkelson, in whose district the road lies, said that after years of discussion and vocal safety concerns from residents, it was time for the city to act.

“This has been talked about and recommended for years, so I’m not sure how we use ‘knee jerk reaction’ to describe actually doing something about it now,” he said.

Mikkelson said that safety concerns from residents should push the project to the “front of the line.”

“Everyone who knows this stretch, it is the Hot Gates of Thermopylae for pedestrians. It is a gauntlet,” he said. “It’s so dangerous, you wonder how we could have gotten used to it all these years.”

Councilor Terrence Gallagher encouraged his peers to take a step back, and consider whether the proposed solution being promoted by the parents — a “road diet” that would narrow Mission to three lanes and allow for the widening of the sidewalk and the inclusion of a bike lane — was the best course of action.

“My concern is that this group is in discussion that this is the solution that we’re going to do before we have the chance to look at it and suggest anything else,” he said.

He worried that taking on the project in 2016 might encourage other groups to lobby the city for road projects it wasn’t prepared to handle.

“What’s not to say other families say, ‘This is what I want at my school now,’?” he said.

Before the vote, Wassmer explicitly stated she hoped the council would vote down the recommendation to make the project a 2016 priority, saying the city staff simply didn’t have the bandwidth to handle a project of such size in such a short timeframe. She said she was very supportive of the project, but that staff needed until 2017 to make sure it was done right.

“This is too important and big to do it this quickly,” she said. “I feel very comfortable with this being budgeted for 2017.”

The recommendation passed on a 6-5 vote. Councilors Ashley Weaver, Jori Nelson, Andrew Wang, Dan Runion and David Morrison joined Mikkelson in supporting the measure. Hopkins, Steve Noll, Brooke Morehead, Ted Odell and Gallagher voted against it. Wassmer did not vote as mayor; the council seat she vacated has not been filled.

Public Works will be presenting the council with its plans and estimated budgets for next year’s CARS projects in the coming weeks. At Monday’s meeting, Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft estimated that the 71st to 75th Street Mission Road project would be in the ballpark of $1 million.