Drivers frustrated by the daily slowdown on Interstate 35 near the 75th Street bridge may yet have reason to hope. The county and the state department of transportation are working on a deal that could add a lane in each direction, possibly by the end of the 2020 construction season.
Johnson County Commissioners appeared favorably disposed to putting $1.6 million in matching funds into the project, which would be 90 percent paid for and run by KDOT. If everything goes as planned, KDOT would add one new lane each to the northbound and southbound lanes. The addition would ease what the state officials labeled a classic bottleneck, where eight or ten lanes narrow to only six under the bridge.
The traffic problems have been an irritant to commission members for the past three or four years and they have called upon the state to do something. But two years ago, they were told by KDOT officials that funding for the project was not a top priority. State budget shortfalls were prevalent then and the highway department funds were not available, they said. At the time the project was estimated to cost around $19 million.
The county could, however, put in some matching funds to speed things up. That is the item now on the commission’s table.
Commissioners initially balked at the idea, saying the bottleneck was created by the state’s highway design in the first place, and the state should pay for the correction. But although some commissioners said they still weren’t happy about having to put county money into a state highway project, were still in a congratulatory mood over getting the plan in motion, and placed it on the noncontroversial consent agenda next week. The county will use funds from County Assistance Road System, which is funded by the state gasoline tax. The state is looking for federal money for its part of the project.
“My only concern has been this is a state project,” said Commissioner Steve Klika. “This should have been done the right way to begin with. And I agree with Commissioner (Jim) Allen we have to take charge of this in order to protect the needs of our citizens.”
Allen, who led the commission’s efforts, said the project will be a good incremental improvement but will not solve all of the problems at the bridge.
There’s still a traffic conflict for people entering southbound 35 at 75th Street as they get on the interstate or south on U.S. Highway 69, he said. That also causes a backup, Allen said.