The $600 million Johnson County Gateway is the project from hell, supposedly paved with good intentions.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
This monstrosity of road construction is a multi-year plan to widen Interstate 35, Interstate 435 and Kansas 10, and to expand interchanges and add flyovers where these roads come together. The intent is to handle the greater loads of traffic expected in the next few decades.
And if they build it, the traffic will surely come.
A complementary project has been under way nearby for many months. I-435 is growing wider by multiple lanes. New sound barriers are rising to attempt to protect neighboring houses and apartments from the din of ever-increasing traffic. Vehicle backups are common.
What’s so bad about the Johnson County Gateway?
• It is pro-sprawl.
If this is a “gateway” to anything, it’s a way for people to get farther away from current residents, especially those in Kansas City. As such, the gateway damages the future of the single most important city in this area, the city that features almost all of the most essential public amenities (especially sports and cultural attractions) that make a metropolitan region first-class.
• It is anti-transit, anti-biking and anti-pedestrian.
The Johnson County Commission recently decided it doesn’t want to spend a few million dollars a year to improve bus service for the elderly and low-income. This is also a county that thinks good transit means making its buses drive slowly on the shoulders of I-35.
Meanwhile, Kansas and Missouri spend just fractions of what they should on transit, though some Kansas Citians are voting now on whether they will support a $100 million streetcar system to boost downtown’s revival.
The dollars used for eyesores like the gateway siphon away funds that could be used to construct bike lanes and pathways. Don’t forget that cars rule in Johnson County — and all over this region.
• It discourages racial and economic diversity.
Making it easier to get away and avoid dealing with the challenges of not just Kansas City but also Kansas City, Kan., northeast Johnson County and the southern parts of the region such as Grandview helps too many people wash their hands of trying to be part of the solution.
• Did I mention it’s expected to cost $600 million? That’s $100 million more than Kansas City’s entire annual general fund budget for cops, firefighters, street repairs and other city services.
• And — big finish here — it subtly discourages citizens from working together on behalf of regional priorities, will cost lots of money to maintain in the future (ready for the road reconstruction bills to roll in?), and puts pressure on other local officials to compete by offering their own costly plans to expand roadways in the Northland, Lee’s Summit and other growing parts of the region.
Ultimately, the Johnson County Gateway is exactly the kind of destructive fallout expected after county leaders several years ago rejected a plan offered through the Mid-America Regional Council to try to reduce sprawl.
But there’s something positive about the project, right? For that we turn to the Kansas Department of Transportation, which at jocogateway.com explains how the plan supposedly will reduce congestion, improve safety and lead to all kinds of wonderful economic development.
It’s already helped create jobs for HNTB, the project manager, and will create many more jobs for others interested in paving over the county.
The Johnson County Gateway is an excellent reminder that, at the end of the day, the real intentions of road planners and highway builders are to create engineering and construction jobs to pour more concrete and build wider roads, while trying to move additional vehicles.
All of these actions lead to — you got it — many more expensive highway projects.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah