Relief from gridlock on U.S. 69 may not come until summer

Drivers will start the new year with persistent traffic delays for about six more months on U.S. 69 in Johnson County.

The $82.3 million project to widen the highway to three lanes each way — from Interstate 435 to Interstate 35 — may not be completed until this summer, officials said.

Funded mostly with federal stimulus money, the project was supposed to be done by Nov. 10. But the completion date has been pushed back because of difficulty moving a 26-inch gas line.

One of the major parts of the project that needs to be completed is the “Tunnel to Nowhere,” which will take traffic from northbound I-35 under U.S. 69 and up to 75th Street near Shawnee Mission Medical Center.

The tunnel has stirred community interest since it was built as part of another road project five years ago. It looked a bit like a mix between a storm shelter and a missile silo.

But the tunnel actually will serve as part of a new off-ramp intended to make the merger of I-35 with U.S. 69 safer. Cars will no longer need to cut across traffic to reach the 75th Street exit.

Other upcoming work includes connecting new pavement on U.S. 69 to existing asphalt on I-35. Workers also need to pave 95th Street from U.S. 69 to Bluejacket Street.

Drivers can expect continuing lane closures and clogging on U.S. 69, which carries up to 80,000 vehicles a day.

The highway department is looking at closing U.S. 69 for an entire weekend in the next several months so workers can paint the structural steel for the 95th Street bridge over the highway.

As one of two major north-south routes through suburban Johnson County, U.S. 69 gives commuters access to an estimated 90,000 jobs within three miles of its intersection with I-435.

Estimates indicate that in the afternoon rush hour, it takes 15 minutes to drive 111/2 miles on U.S. 69 from I-35 south to 167th Street. Without the widening project, the same commute was predicted to take 35 minutes by 2030.