KDOT to start lane addition at 75th and I-35 sooner than expected

Traffic near the 75th Street exchange at I-35 backs up regularly.

Relief is coming sooner than expected for drivers negotiating the regular rush-hour traffic jam at 75th Street and Interstate 35. The Kansas Department of Transportation has announced that it is moving up a project to add lanes under the overpass by about a year.

That means construction next year rather than 2021 to address a perennial bane to drivers going either direction on the Interstate. The work will add one lane in each direction.

The Johnson County Commission has been trying for three or four years to get the state highway department to do something about the problem, which stems from a design flaw that creates a classic bottleneck as the number of lanes drops from eight to six under the bridge. Construction of tunnels and other improvements in the past decade at the interchange with U.S. 69 only made the problem worse, state engineers have said.

But because of shortages in the Kansas budget and borrowing from the highway fund in recent years, the commission was told the county would have to kick in if it wanted the work done any time soon. Although county road money is not usually used for state and interstate highway projects, the commission agreed to put in $1.65 million to the $16.5 million project.

The state’s portion will come from a federal grant. The county will use its County Assistance Road System revenues, which come from the state gasoline tax.

County commissioners have been reluctant in the past to use county dollars for a problem they say should have been fixed by KDOT. Nevertheless they were pleased Thursday to hear that construction will begin sooner. Commissioner Steve Klika called it a “well-needed” project, even though the state is not putting in any of its own dollars. He commended Commissioner Jim Allen, who led the commission’s efforts.