Governor, area leaders announce expansion of I-35 at 75th St. to 4 lanes in each direction

Gov. Jeff Colyer was in the area Tuesday to announce the expansion of I-35 at 75th Street to four lanes.

Interstate 35 at 75th Street — one of the most congested stretches of highway in Kansas — will be expanded to four lanes in both directions in 2020, state and county officials announced Tuesday.

The project will go out for bid at the end of 2019 with construction expected to begin in spring 2020. The construction will likely last about a year.

Gathered at the Kansas Department of Transportation’s shop at I-35 and Lamar, Gov. Jeff Colyer, County Chair Ed Eilert, Lenexa Mayor Mike Boehm and KDOT Sec. Richard Carlson, said the project represented a major priority for the state’s economy, as more than 13,000 trucks use that section of highway each day to transport freight.

It’s also a major frustration to the tens of thousands of commuters who get stuck in traffic jams — including the governor.

“I live here. I’ve seen this. Every single day I have lost time in that traffic jam going north or south,” said Colyer, who lives in Leawood. “It is something that has really been a bottleneck for the last several years. And it’s going to get worse unless we do something about it.”

‘One of a kind’ project justified use of CARS funds

Mayor Mike Boehm said the project would help alleviate traffic congestion that has plagued the intersection for years.

The total project budget will be about $16 million, KDOT officials said. The vast majority of the funding will come from federal freight funds administered by KDOT. But approximately $1.6 million will come from Johnson County’s County Assistance Road Systems (CARS) program. The county commission gave tacit approval to the use of CARS matching funds for the project earlier this month.

CARS, which provides funds collected by the county through a gas tax and county mill levy, provides matching dollars to cities for major road projects in their borders. The program has not been used to fund highway projects in the past.

But the opportunity to address the persistent frustrations of traffic jams at the project area was compelling enough to get the county and leaders from four cities to cooperate on the funding agreement. To secure the CARS funds for the I-35 project, city leaders from Lenexa, Merriam, Shawnee and Overland Park effectively had to give up potential funding through CARS for work on arterial streets in their cities.

Eilert stressed that this was a one-of-a-kind project and that CARS funds were not likely to be used for highway construction in the future and that forgoing funding for city streets was not an easy choice for the Lenexa, Merriam, Shawnee and Overland Park leaders.

“We all came to the conclusion that this was one project that would qualify for that kind of cooperation,” Eilert said.

Boehm noted that beyond the alleviation of traffic congestion, the project should have a positive impact on the environment, and it will get more cars moving as opposed to idling. Idling cars’ exhaust is a significant factor in air pollution.

Colyer said he was encouraging KDOT to speed up the design process to get the project moving as soon as possible. He also noted that he’s asking project leaders to think through ways to minimize traffic disruption during construction.

“Hopefully we can learn something from Japan, which does much of their work at night,” he said.