For merchants and motorists, Johnson Drive project is an exercise in perseverance

05/06/2014 9:12 PM

05/06/2014 9:12 PM

If there were a ground zero for the first phase of the massive reconstruction of Johnson Drive in Mission, it would have to be Mission Wine & Spirits.

At the corner of Johnson Drive and Outlook Street, the store has been at the heart of a project that has reduced traffic to a narrow two lanes from Nall to Lamar avenues. It was at that corner that a large storage box for storm water was buried under the street, disrupting parking on both sides and causing Johnson Drive to be closed for a time. Customers had to use a narrow asphalt sidewalk to get to the front door.

Construction has discouraged customers from getting to the store during its peak times, said owner Kate Lavender. The work started before Christmas and New Year’s and has continued through St. Patrick’s Day, the NCAA tournament and Easter — the busiest times for a liquor store.

“It’s been horrible,” Lavender said. “It’s killing me.”

There has been plenty of misery to go around, though. Drivers who intended to travel an east/west route through northern Johnson County have found that Johnson Drive definitely isn’t the route to choose. The Mission project is only one — albeit the largest — of three places the road has been torn up the past month.

In Merriam, just west of the Interstate 35 overpass, Johnson Drive has been completely closed for replacement of a bridge over Turkey Creek. Drivers there are being asked to take Nieman Road south to Shawnee Mission Parkway or north to 55th Street to get over the creek and across the interstate.

Even Shawnee is wrapping up a small resurfacing project that limited the lanes briefly.

None of these projects has made business owners happy. Lavender said detours for road construction near her store bring customers closer to two other liquor stores in town. She even contemplated a temporary closing for a while.

“I know everybody’s suffering,” she said. “My saving grace is that I have some private parking on the side,” although even some of that space has been barricaded for road work at times.

Several business owners along Johnson Drive reported things being a little slow lately. Astoria Camille, co-owner of Lulu’s Boutique, parks her car in front of her store when she can to encourage customers that it’s possible.

“A lot of people think we’re closed. They freak out when they see the cones,” she said.

The store buys and resells clothing and other items. So far, she said, people who want to sell to her have still been able to make it in. “But I feel like the shoppers are deterred,” she said.

There are other construction-related issues to deal with as well. Jeep Shin, manager of the Mission Dry Cleaner and Coin Laundry, said his customers need their parking. And most of them want to avoid the chalky dust that has coated store windows and floors all along the street.

“I hope they will be finished before summer,” he said.

Dan Smith, co-owner of Vintage Mission, has been offering some deep discounts to get customers to come past the cones. The worst days were when the street was closed entirely, he said.

“That’s been a struggle. We rely on car traffic coming by and seeing us,” he said.

Still, Smith said he thinks the street work will be worth it because it will make a smooth roadway and improve the look of the sidewalks. “It will be very nice looking once they get it all done.”

That’s on schedule to happen in November, said Emily Randel, Mission’s public information officer.

The $10.8 million project was designed to improve the road surface, sidewalks and streetscape along the strip, which will be a key route between the new Ikea store, opening soon to the west in Merriam, and the Gateway project that is planned at the eastern end of the city. A storm water drainage system was added to take some pressure off Rock Creek during heavy rains.

The road improvement is funded with money from the federal and county governments plus about $5 million in city funds from a dedicated sales tax and the Transportation Utility Fee.

The first phase involved the storm water tanks and mostly the south side of the street and should be done around July 1, Randel said. Then workers will concentrate on the north side.

Meanwhile in Merriam, the bridge work is expected to continue through late summer.

The six-month bridge replacement got underway in February. A bridge inspection in 2007 had identified the bridge as in need of repair or replacement, said City Administrator Phil Lammers. The urgency increased after subsequent studies.

The bridge will get a completely new deck, although the T-shaped supports will not be replaced, Lammers said. The project will cost about $1.9 million, with $590,000 coming from the city.

Drivers who want to get across the interstate have a major detour to contend with. They can take Nieman Road south to Shawnee Mission Parkway or north to 55th Street and eventually across at Antioch Road.

“It’s a big detour and we regret that,” Lammers said. “It’s unfortunate.”

But because of Merriam’s topography of hills and gullies, not all streets go straight through, he said. Nieman is the closest reliable route.

Even Shawnee had a little bit of Johnson Drive torn up last week. Traffic was briefly reduced to one lane while workers resurfaced the asphalt between Quivira Road and King Street. Officials there said street work will continue for a short time while the manholes are being smoothed over.

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