If you think JoCo’s I-35 construction traffic is bad now, just wait till next spring

The traffic headache on Interstate 35 in Johnson County should get better in a matter of months, when the southbound ramp to Overland Parkway/U.S. 69 reopens. But commuters can prepare for a migraine this spring.

The ramp closed this month for a $3.7 million bridge repair project, which should be completed by December, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation. The construction is sending some 72,000 vehicles on a detour each day.

But I-35 drivers won’t get too much of a break after that project is completed.

In March, work should begin to widen I-35 under the 75th Street bridge — which is one of the worst bottlenecks in Johnson County and in the state of Kansas. Metro Engineer Kevin Kellerman, with KDOT, said the state plans to put the $16.5 million project out to bid this winter.

The spot is infamous for its traffic jams, mainly because the highway narrows from five to three lanes in each direction at 75th Street. The project will add one lane in both directions. Kellerman said the number of vehicles traveling there daily has grown in recent years to between 150,000 and 160,000, on average.

“I’ve been there some mornings, and the traffic is backed up to 435 on both U.S. 69 and I-35 because you’ve got five lanes coming down into three,” said Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. “I can’t say the traffic will be all cleared out after this, but it should alleviate some of the congestion and make the movement go much more smoothly.”

KDOT secured 90% of funding through a federal freight transportation grant but did not have state money to fund a 10% match.

To kick-start the project, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners voted last fall to provide $1.65 million over two years from the County Assistance Road System, or CARS, fund. The money comes from the state gas tax and a county property tax.

Construction is expected take place in stages over one year. The state plans to maintain three lanes of traffic in each direction during the widening project, Kellerman said, but as cars approach the project, lanes will be reduced, and some exit ramps will be closed at times.

So far, he said construction is on track with the timeline former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer announced last year.

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Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.