Express buses will roll in January

Starting in January, drivers in cars bogged down on Interstate 35 can watch Johnson County buses zip past them on the shoulder.

Shawn Strate, a planner with Johnson County Transit, on Tuesday explained the Jo Xpress routes to the Olathe City Council.

Funded by a federal grant for about $2 million for planning, transit shelter upgrades and more, it is based on similar programs in Minneapolis, Miami and Chicago that allow buses to run closer to schedule in spite of highway congestion.

A main goal is to better connect Johnson County and Downtown Kansas City. The Kansas Legislature approved the plan for Johnson County last year and planners hope to get it approved next year for Wyandotte County.

During morning and evening rush hours, eight to 10 buses a day can travel on the shoulder when traffic on the highway has slowed to less than 35 miles an hour.

Buses can’t go more than 35 miles per hour on the shoulder and can’t go faster than 10 miles an hour faster than the highway traffic flow. So if traffic is standing still, the buses can go 10 miles an hour. They will operate from 95th Street to the Wyandotte County line, Strate said, and are expected to speed the average trip by three to five minutes, although that will vary widely on conditions.

The low shoulder speeds promote safety, he said, and other cities using the system report only occasional minor accidents or no accidents, he said.

The program starts Jan. 3 and transit station improvements will be added next spring at bus stops and park and ride lots in Olathe and Overland Park, officials report.

Routes that will have the operation are:

Olathe Xpress at route 661/B, Gardner-Overland Park Xpress at route 670/L, South Overland Park Xpress at route 673/LN, and Shawnee Xpress at route 678/S.

Fares for the buses will be $2, Strate said, and could result in more bus riders.

Total transit bus ridership went up 13 percent from 2010 to 2011 and now stands at between 2,000 and 2,500 riders a day, Strate said.