Overland Park to consider expanding U.S. 69 project, adding $10M in local costs

U.S. 69 tolls

The Overland Park City Council on Monday will consider including improvements at the 167th Street interchange to a plan to expand U.S. 69 Highway between 103rd and 151st Streets, by adding single toll lanes going each way. Wrapping 167th Street into that plan would mean the city would need to come up with $10 million in local matching funds sooner than expected. Above, traffic near 151st Street on U.S. 69. Image via 69express.

The Overland Park City Council on Monday night will consider whether the city should take on an additional $10 million local funding obligation to fold 167th Street into the express toll lane project on U.S. Highway 69.

Doing so could add three to seven years to the estimated 15 to 20 years that tolls will be charged on one lane that will be added in each direction.

The controversial express toll plan, approved by the city council over the summer, will add a lane to the four-lane highway in each direction. Drivers would pay a toll for driving in a designated express lane, but the other lanes would remain toll-free.

Councilmembers had already approved the first phase of construction, but it only reached from 103rd Street to 151st Street. The 167th Street overpass and surrounding improvements would have been built in a later phase.

But working with city leaders, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids was able to get money for the interchange project into a new federal infrastructure bill, meaning the 167th Street portion could be wrapped into the earlier construction.

$10M in city matching funds

The federal funding means Overland Park would be expected to come up with $10 million in matching funds sooner than it might have if 167th Street had stayed in a later phase.

The additional construction is expected to cost $30 million overall, with $20 million from state and federal sources.

The proposal offered by KDOT does not extend toll lanes past 151st Street.

The $10 million that would go towards the 167th Street interchange would be on top of $20 million in local matching funds already approved for the highway expansion between 103rd and 151st streets.

Overland Park’s share for all that money would be paid from tolls collected along the expanded highway.

The interchange project would add on- and off-ramps at the 167th Street interchange with the highway. And it would also provide for widening 167th Street between Antioch Road and Metcalf Avenue to a four-lane. That’s necessary because of projected growth in that part of town from the BluHawk development, according to staff notes. The road at that section is currently an unimproved two-lane thoroughfare.

In a press conference after the federal bill was passed, Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz noted that around 6,000 drivers typically use the 167th Street interchange. But that is expected to increase to more than 30,000 by 2050, she said.

Concerns about voting before new council is seated

The city council last June approved a plan to pay $20 million for the first phase of the $300 million project.

The question of an additional $10 million for the interchange will be presented to councilmembers at the regular meeting Monday, although members of the Public Works Committee will also hear about results of a noise study at a meeting beforehand.

It wasn’t clear whether outgoing Mayor Carl Gerlach would call for a vote tonight, but that possibility has raised some eyebrows because this is the last council meeting before newly elected members and new mayor Curt Skoog are sworn in.

Councilmember Faris Farassati, who has been a critic of the toll plan, said he’d be willing to listen to the new proposal. But voting on it before four new councilmembers are seated is going too far, he said.

“I am not going to vote for a penny of additional money on the back of the people of Overland Park until the new council is seated,” he said.

He added that Gerlach, who is also stepping down from the mayor’s seat, should also refrain from signing any agreement during his last days in office.

Gerlach could not be reached for comment for this story.

Long-simmering issues along U.S. 69

City leaders have been grappling for more than a decade with how to solve the problems of U.S. 69.

As the city has grown and expanded southward, the highway has become more dangerous and the traffic speeds more unpredictable. Residents have complained of persistent traffic snarls and tie-ups.

Toll lanes were presented as a way to ease congestion because of tight funding in the highway department due to past tax cuts.

Instead of waiting behind other projects on the state’s to-do list, Overland Park could essentially buy its way ahead by agreeing to pay some of the costs.

Mayor-elect Skoog said his initial impression of the expansion is positive.

“I’m all for bringing in more federal dollars to improve our road network and to increase safety and access,” he said, adding, “The council has been working on U.S. 69 for a long time.”

The council’s Public Works Committee will get a look tonight at the highway department study of noise in the first construction phase area.

KDOT has planned a new virtual public meeting on the project, which is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8.