As BNSF railyard gets rolling, motorists will face a new traffic pattern

10/15/2013 4:42 PM

10/15/2013 4:44 PM

Driving on the left-hand side of road may seem weird to American drivers, but a new interchange on Interstate 35 in southwest Johnson County forces drivers to do just that — and it could help spur economic development to that area.

Local government and Kansas transportation officials on Friday cut the ribbon on a $36 million diverging diamond interchange at Homestead Lane and Interstate 35, just outside Edgerton. The new interchange will ease traffic commuting through the area and to the new 433-acre BNSF railyard, which is scheduled to be dedicated Thursday.

The interchange is the first of its kind in Kansas. Developed in France several years ago, the interchange features traffic signals and signage that moves both directions of traffic to the opposite side of the road shortly before the interchange. This crossover allows left and right-hand turns to be made at the same time, and drivers turning left onto the highway can do so without stopping at another light or turning in front of traffic.

Traffic in that area may be light now, but as operations at the BNSF inland port increase, keeping traffic flowing fluidly will be crucial, Edgerton City Administrator Beth Linn said. The hope is that the interchange will make access to the rail yard, called Logistics Park Kansas City, easier for companies that ship goods via the railroad. That ease will attract businesses the area around interchange and the intermodal hub.

“Right now it feels like you’re out there by yourself, but the plan is for the future,” she said.

Commercial growth around Logistics Park Kansas City could mean between 6,000 and 7,000 new jobs and a widening tax base for Edgerton. The warehouses around the railyard won’t be the only source of employment, Linn said. Service industry, like hotels, restaurants and truck repair shops, will likely pop up as business at Logistics Park Kansas City expands. That commercial growth with greatly diversify Edgerton’s tax base, which is over 90 percent residential now.

“Residents will see income come to the city for services they need and want,” she said.

All those jobs will bring traffic along I-35 and Homestead Lane to more than 13,000 cars this year and almost 43,000 by 2040, Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kimberly Qualls said. Almost 24 percent of that will be truck traffic to the BNSF yard.

The project, including improvements to Homestead Lane and 191st Street, cost $36 million, with $14 million from Johnson County and the rest from the federally funded T-Works program. Kansas Department of Transportation projections show the area could bring as much as $600 million in economic development, although the project has been controversial in southwest Johnson County because of its size and concerns about environmental impacts.

If the interchange is successful, it won’t be the last of its kind in Kansas. Qualls said some diverging diamond interchanges are planned for the Johnson County Gateway project, the revamping of I-35, Interstate 435 and Kansas 10.

Kansas City has a diverging diamond interchange at I-435 and Front Street that opened last year.

In 2009, Springfield, Mo., was the first city in the United States to implement the diverging diamond interchange. The city chose the design because it cut the cost of redoing the interchange at Interstate 44 and Missouri 13 from $6.8 million to $3.2 million, but saw an immediate improvement in traffic flow, said Kirk Juranas, assistant public works director for Springfield and former Missouri Department of Transportation engineer.

“It flat-out moves cars,” he said.

The city liked the design so much they put in three more interchanges like it with a fifth planned for 2015. Those new interchanges have helped cut accidents in their area by almost 50 percent, he said. Public opinion has been favorable. Juranas said both young and old drivers polled during public discussion on the first interchange’s construction were in favor of the new design. They’re most effective in areas that have a lot of traffic making turns.

“People will either love it, or they’ll hate it, but they’ll agree it works,” Juranas said.

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