Council divided over Nieman improvements
Reducing Nieman Road to three lanes, lining up entrances along the road when feasible, and incorporating an attractive, bike-friendly side-path are just a few ideas in store for the downtown corridor.
But some Shawnee City Council members are hesitant to take the plunge.
At its council committee meeting Tuesday, the governing body received updates about the much-anticipated Nieman Road Corridor Project, which the city hopes will beautify and revitalize the downtown area.
Project consultants Randy Gorton of BHC Rhodes, Amy McCurdy of McCurdy Engineers and Marty Shukert of RDG Planning and Design revealed a few of their ideas for improvements.
Those ideas included reducing Nieman Road to three lanes between Shawnee Mission Parkway and 55th Street, and adding either shoulders, bike lanes or a multi-use side-path.
Other ideas included cleaning up extra entrances to businesses along Nieman Road and better lining up entrances where feasible.
Consultants told the council that as a three-lane roadway, Nieman Road will still be able to handle its usual traffic, as well as future traffic, should there be redevelopment along the corridor.
The city is estimating the total project to be $6.825 million, with $3.825 million funded by the city and the rest from Johnson County Assistance Road System, or CARS, funding.
Some council members, however, balked at spending millions of dollars to make so many drastic changes at once.
Councilman Mickey Sandifer said he would rather see the city spend $80,000 on re-striping Nieman Road to three lanes first, and then do more improvements later on if all goes well.
“This is a big project that is going to cost a lot of money,” he said. "Let’s do the re-striping to see how it affects the public or makes a difference, instead of spending millions of dollars.”
Councilmen Jim Neighbor and Eric Jenkins agreed with him.
Jenkins said that while he supports the project, he’s very concerned about spending millions of dollars on it. After all, Jenkins added, he sees the improvements as a want rather than a need.
“We’re kicking all these things around and I think they’re great ideas, but I don’t want to lose focus on the city’s serious needs,” he said.
Councilman Jeff Vaught disagreed.
He argued that homes in downtown Shawnee tend to be rentals, the area has several poorly maintained properties, and there is a shopping strip with bars on its windows.
“Our revitalization efforts aren’t working,” he said. “If we don’t make an effort, it’s going to be too late. To me, this is not a want, it’s a necessity. This is unacceptable for our downtown. We just can’t go on like this.”
He also added that if the city simply re-stripes Nieman Road to three lanes, and then does improvements much later, the project will lose its momentum and the public could lose interest.
Councilman Dan Pflumm agreed, saying he didn’t think the city should re-stripe Nieman Road without the other improvements.
He also added that he liked the idea of adding a wide side-path along Nieman Road for people to walk or ride bikes downtown. He said it would be safer than a bike lane, which would put children inches away from cars.
Councilman Brandon Kenig sided with Pflumm and Vaught, stating the project should be done as a whole.
“I think the goal is to make downtown a destination,” he said. “Right now, people go there for a specific purpose and leave. It’s not a community-based downtown. There are many different kinds of businesses you would attract by making it more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.”
The next step for the project is gathering public input.
Project leaders will hold an open house regarding Nieman Road improvements from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at Shawnee Town 1929 Town Hall, 11600 Johnson Drive.
There will be a brief presentation at 6:30 p.m., plus stations featuring more information on various pieces of the project, including traffic and right-of-way management, as well as different alternatives for improvements to Nieman Road.
Members of the public will have the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions at the meeting. An online survey will also be available following the meeting.