Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2003

Cities in a jam with K-7 traffic

September 4, 2003

From Shawnee to Basehor, area municipalities are weighing the impacts and possibilities surrounding the future development of the Kansas Highway 7 corridor.

For Basehor, Bonner Springs and Shawnee, which include approximately 12.5 miles of the highway, attempting to balance the needs of existing and potential residential, commercial and retail development against the improvement of the highway has become commonplace.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, Bonner Springs hosted a work session to discuss options and suggestions the city would make for the K-7 corridor. Earlier in the day, Basehor, the Leavenworth County Commission and a developer with key interests along K-7 met during an informational meeting, as well.

In Shawnee, city officials continually keep an eye toward the highway, a thoroughfare city manager Gary Montague called one of the busiest and most quickly developing boulevards in Kansas.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is searching for the most effective way to improve the highway, which transportation officials say is bound for a booming increase in traffic in coming years. A state traffic study, commissioned years ago, backs up that point, indicating the need to develop K-7 into a freeway or expressway with limited access points.

But, for area cities, limiting the access points along K-7 would be a crucial blow, perhaps stymieing development and losing out on potential tax revenue.

Everybody needs an answer, yet nobody has one.

Chris Huffman, KDOT engineer and assistant bureau chief of traffic, said the department hasn't yet determined exactly what future developments will occur along K-7.

"We don't know at this point," Huffman said. "There may not be anything that can be done."

The dilemma for the department is finding an attractive solution to an ugly problem: whatever future work done to K-7 must balance the needs of the cities and developments as well as satisfy practical traffic and safety requirements, Huffman said.

There is no money slated for the improvement of K-7 through 2009 under the agency's comprehensive transportation plan, Huffman said.

Whatever road the state chooses in improving K-7, Huffman judged it important that area cities with controlling interest along the highway are on board.

"We're all going to succeed or we're all going down together," Huffman said.

Busiest road in Kansas

"There's not another highway in Kansas with as much activity as our stretch of K-7," Shawnee city manager Gary Montague said, putting the city's interest in the highway's future into perspective.

For Shawnee, the problems along the highway aren't as pressing as the plight of other cities. Shawnee may be one of the few cities ahead of the curve when dealing with K-7's future.

Montague said a deal between the city and the department of transportation has been secured, which would allow access east and west of the highway to the Clear Creek and the Gray Oaks development, approximately a half mile south of Johnson Drive.

The Clear Creek development includes an 18-hole public golf course and 500 apartment units. The development is slated to build another 500 apartments, Montague said.

Gray Oaks is a mixed use development, with commercial and residential uses, the city administrator said.

Ideally, the city of Shawnee would like interchanges or signalized intersections along its section of K-7 to complement existing and future development. As long as the interchanges or signalized intersections are in place at key locations such as Johnson Drive and K-7 and 75th Street and K-7, Shawnee city officials don't foresee a problem with the highway.

"We don't have any other alternative," Montague said.

Seeking alternatives

Bonner Springs officials are concerned mainly with keeping easy access for travelers along K-7 to Bonner businesses.

To do so, the mayor and Council members plan to propose keeping stoplights along K-7 or building bridges with access ramps at key locations.

"If we can create opportunity for access to our city, we've got to look for it," Council member Rory Kuhn said.

To Kuhn and others, that means keeping stoplights along the highway to force travelers to slow down.

But Bonner Springs city attorney Joe Perry pointed out that the state might take a different perspective.

"Their position is that the most effective way to attract commercial development is to run through as many cars as they can," he said.

Although Bonner officials do not want the city to be cut off from access to the highway, they also do not want stoplights at every intersection, as is the case along Metcalf Avenue in Johnson County.

Some options they discussed included right-in, right-out ramps, which would allow traffic to leave from only one direction off K-7 and only one direction back on. That type of access would not only allow traffic to reach Bonner businesses, it would also eliminate safety concerns at dangerous intersections, such as Commercial Drive and K-7.

Another concern was with exit ramps along K-7 and State Avenue.

"I'll tell you, my biggest concern is that interchange up there," Council member Debe Birzer said. "It sure looks like that will pull a lot of land."

The City Council and other officials will continue to assess the situation before deciding what proposals to make to the state.

Even so, not all are positive Bonner Springs will see a solution that meets the city's best interests on every level, especially commercial growth.

"The sad reality is I think KDOT is well aware of what our position is," Council member Doug Clements said.

But they plan to stick to a give-and-take approach.

"We're not going to get everything we want," Clements said. "I think KDOT is going to get everything it wants, unless we fight for everything tooth and nail. I think we need to pick out our key points -- we want access here, we want access there -- then maybe we can give a little in between."

Searching for access

On Monday afternoon, the Leavenworth County Commission met with Falcon Lakes developer Rustom Ferzandi and Mike Hooper, Basehor city codes administrator, to discuss the highway problems the residential development has experienced over the past 18 months.

Falcon Lakes is a residential development slated for 550 homes with a restaurant and 18-hole public golf course. With the state's blessing, the development built a $1.5 million access road, Falcon Lakes Parkway, from the development to the highway.

In March of last year, the department of transportation ordered the road barricaded because of "safety issues," Huffman said. Since the road's closure, Falcon Lakes has struggled to sell residential home lots, Ferzandi said.

Two points of access from the highway remain for Falcon Lakes -- Donohoo and Hollingsworth roads -- neither of which offer the same attractiveness as Falcon Lakes Parkway.

Monday afternoon, the developer asked the Leavenworth County Commission for support in regaining Falcon Lakes Parkway or gaining improvements to Hollingsworth Road.

Without giving carte blanche support, the county commission agreed the development needs a quick solution.

"We support the fact he needs some kind of access to K-7 quickly," county commission chairman Joe Daniels said. "But there are things we're trying to be mindful of."

Daniels said the county commission needs more information on what's occurring now and in the future for K-7 before rushing to make any snap decisions. The plight of the developer has not fallen on deaf ears, though.

"We know he's after access and we know it's critical that he has some sort of entrance," Daniels said.

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