Overland Park council advances idea of toll lanes on U.S. Highway 69 for further study

A proposal to build toll lanes down the middle of a part of U.S. Highway 69 will move forward for a deeper study, the Overland Park City Council has decided.

The council, meeting as a committee of the whole, learned Monday that an initial study shows that the pay lanes would reap enough for the toll equipment. In one scenario, toll lanes would also pay for some of the construction cost.

Congestion on the highway has been a major concern because the regular slow-downs are dangerous and harmful to economic growth, council members have said. City officials commissioned a corridor study in 2016 that eventually recommended expanding the road to three lanes in each direction from 103rd Street to 179th Street.

The “pre-plan analysis” discussed Monday was a quick look at whether toll lanes would be financially feasible enough to support ongoing maintenance and toll collecting expenses.

U.S. 69 in Overland Park at dawn, as traffic quickly fills up a highway that clogs nearly every rush hour. Photo credit Scott Canon/Kansas News Service.

The study, done in partnership with the Kansas Department of Transportation, looked at two building scenarios and concluded that each was feasible.

Both scenarios envisioned an express lane setup similar to those in Denver, with the toll lanes running down the middle and some type of separation from regular traffic beginning at 103rd Street. The full-build scenario has the lanes running all the way to 179th Street, and a smaller project extends them only as far as 151st.

Because of the special equipment and signage, the toll versions cost more to build than non-toll roads. Capital costs for the full-build were estimated at $565 million for the toll road and $547 million without. For the shorter project, it would be $299 million for toll versus $258 million.

But net revenue would be higher on the project that ends at 151st Street, according to the study. Officials estimated the partial-build scenario would take in $243 million after toll collecting expenses, while the full-build would get $238 million in net revenue during the 30 years beginning in 2025.

That would make it possible to pay for toll collecting plus a portion of the capital costs on the shorter version.

The express lanes would have four “weave zones” at regular intervals where traffic could enter and exit, said City Engineer Lorraine Basalo. The toll lanes would likely depend on K-Tag technology and traffic cameras for collection and enforcement.

Basalo said the numbers were calculated with several assumptions. Under the assumptions, commercial trucks and cars with trailers would not be allowed in express lanes due to safety concerns. Analysts also figured there would be no discounted tolls and that public transit and emergency vehicles would go toll free.

In addition, a certain number of drivers might escape paying, resulting in about a 5 percent “leakage” of revenue. Usage might also be slow the first ten years as people adapt, she said.

The analysis was meant only to give the council a rough idea of whether the idea merits further study. Most detailed questions would have to be answered with a deeper study including such things as timelines, design options and environmental impacts.

Whether Overland Park builds the pay lanes or just expands the road without them depends a bit on what happens in the Kansas Legislature as budgets are written this session and road projects are approved. But council members were told the toll option could move ahead faster, since it has the advantage of contributing money to the state for upkeep of the road. The option to build new toll lanes is new in Kansas, having only been added to state law last year.

The council committee unanimously voted to go ahead with that second study, but it does not commit Overland Park to eventual toll roads.