A plan to renovate a section of Mission Road in Prairie Village to make it safer for pedestrians is back on track.
A divided City Council voted 6-5 on Monday to make the project between 71st and 75th streets a priority for 2016. It was the second time in a month that council members have voted to submit the project to a Johnson County road assistance program with some members fighting over concerns the project is too complicated to be ready for construction next spring.
For the large group of neighbors who have spent months lobbying officials to do something about the road, however, the decision was a reason to applaud and cheer.
The residents have long complained that sidewalks along that stretch of Mission Road, which is frequented by families and children walking to St. Ann Catholic Church and Shawnee Mission East High School, are narrow and run up against the four-lane street. In one spot, the sidewalk is hemmed in by a retaining wall, which residents said would make it impossible to dodge a vehicle that lost control and jumped the curb.
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Prairie Village Police Chief Tim Schwartzkopf said the area is not considered unsafe statistically, with police recording only nine accidents in the St. Ann school zone over the last five years and officers writing just 15 tickets there so far this year.
But the neighbors said the city has simply been lucky.
“This is a safety concern that’s real, it’s urgent and we experience it every day,” resident Katie Siengsukon told the council.
Joe Nolke said he and three other neighbors have opened their backyards to school children who want a route to school that doesn’t require walking along Mission.
“We all know that street is dangerous,” Nolke said.
The current proposal would narrow the road to three lanes between 71st and 75th streets, with one lane each for north and south traffic and a middle dedicated turn lane. That would provide more buffer between traffic and pedestrians.
However, Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft said such an extensive project would require a traffic study to see if that truly is the safest choice and how narrowing the road might affect traffic on surrounding streets. He said the normal process for this kind of project is 18 months. The council’s vote Monday effectively gives him about 10 months before the project needs to go out for construction bids and 15-16 months before construction would have to start.
It’s for those reasons that Bredehoeft had recommended not changing the original and fairly straightforward 2016 priority of resurfacing Mission Road between 75th and 83rd streets, which he said has begun deteriorating faster than expected. That project is now pushed off until 2017.
The projects are being submitted to the County Assistance Roads System (CARS) program. Under CARS, Johnson County agrees to pay half the construction cost of a single city transportation improvement each year. The Mission Road project between 71st and 75th streets is estimated to cost $1 million to build, of which the county will chip in $500,000.
Tempers flared briefly during the meeting as council members found themselves again debating the value of the dueling Mission Road projects.
The council narrowly voted last month to submit the 71st to 75th streets project to the county program. But a week later it was replaced by the resurfacing project after there was confusion over whether the original vote had been binding.
Proponents of the pedestrian project said they understood the city will have to sprint to get the project ready in time but that they felt improving safety was worth the extra effort.
“This is an opportunity for this council and this city to rally and do something good and do something right,” said Councilman Eric Mikkelson.
Those opposing him agreed the project needs to be done. But they also said they felt such an important project needed adequate time to avoid mistakes.
“I am afraid something is going to get missed,” said Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins. “I support it, but I don’t support rushing it.”
In other business:
▪ The council agreed to extend for another 30 days the special use permit for the Mission Chateau senior living complex as developers and nearby residents continue to try to reach a settlement. The two sides requested and received an extension last month after saying they had reached an agreement in principle but needed time to work out the details. Mayor Laura Wassmer said she and others were losing patience.
“I feel like if you cannot make this happen in another month, I’m not sure you’re going to make it happen,” Wassmer said.
Last year, after a Johnson County district judge refused to overturn the city’s decision granting a special use permit for Mission Chateau, 48 plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the Kansas Court of Appeals. The case is moving through the appellate process, but it could take many months if not more than a year to reach a decision.
▪ The council also approved a funding agreement with a subsidiary of VanTrust Real Estate, the developers of the proposed Meadowbrook complex. The developers have agreed to advance the city money to pay for legal fees, bond counsel services, appraisals and other professional services tied to finalizing a development agreement for the project. The developers would recoup the costs, of which the city has already incurred $57,291, through proposed tax increment financing dollars.
▪ Council members also approved the second year of a multi-year plan to eradicate ash trees in parks or public rights of way infected by the emerald ash borer.