With the backdrop of afternoon traffic zooming past, state and local officials on Tuesday lifted gold shovels and turned dirt to symbolically start the extensive Johnson County Gateway Project, a complete overhaul of the Kansas 10, Interstate 35 and I-435 interchange.
"It's key for growth," Gov. Sam Brownback said at the groundbreaking ceremonies in Lenexa for the project that will take 2 1/2 years to complete.
"This has an economic projected impact of $1.3 billion. That's economic growth. That creates tax dollars so that we can put those back into great schools and other projects that the state has."
The three-year, $288 million undertaking is the largest highway project ever done in Kansas.
"This area we are standing right in front of now gets daily 230,000 cars or trucks or traffic through it," Brownback said. "By 2040, that's projected to be 380,000. It's backed up now too often at key parts of the day. We want to make sure to relieve that and also open up other areas for development so we can continue to grow jobs and add jobs."
Brownback urged drivers to slow down and think of workers' safety during while the project is being built.
The project, which includes reconstruction of I-435, widening of some streets and two diverging diamond interchanges, will make the commute easier, quicker and safer while replacing aged infrastructure and addressing most of the area’s traffic concerns, Burt Morey, Kansas Department of Transportation project director, said recently.
At an open house in Lenexa, Morey and other members of the department explained the scope of the project and what drivers can expect.
Beginning in early or mid-May, crews will reconstruct the westbound lane of I-435 east of I-35, and an eastbound collection road will be added to K-10 before I-435 that will keep traffic wanting to exit soon to the outside, while traffic wanting to continue south on I-435 will remain on the inside. This will eliminate the need for drivers to weave in and out of traffic as they merge onto and off of I-435, Morey said.
That weaving motion, as drivers either speed up or slow down to change lanes, is the major cause of congestion and accidents in the Gateway Project area.
More than 85 percent of the accidents in the K-10, I-435 and I-35 area are rear-end collisions, which can largely be blamed on congestion, said Joe Brand, an HNTB project manager who was hired by the department to assist with the project.
Cleaning up the interchange is important to drivers like James Bell, who drives from De Soto to around 135th Street and U.S. 69 and back five times a week. Congestion during the morning and evening rush hours can turn a 10-minute commute into a 30-minute drive, he said.
“We go to Costco once a week, but I know another way to get there,” Bell joked about potential road closures. “Overall the project looks great.”
The improvements should help the economy, too. After the project is complete, Brand said, projections show a $1.3 billion dollar boost to the economy and 1,100 new jobs.
“Theoretically, transportation supports future development by getting people to and from businesses easily,” he said.
The project is expected to cost $288 million with funding coming from the federal government and Kansas’s T-Works program, a three quarters of a percent sales tax increase for transportation funding approved by the 2010 state legislature.
Morey said the Kansas Department of Transportation would like to continue improvements after 2016 that would cost an additional $300 million if the funding becomes available.
Between now and the end of construction, KDOT plans to work with cities and business to reduce any negative economic effects, like delayed deliveries and people having trouble getting to a business because of detours. KDOT has worked with UPS, JC Penney and the Oak Park Mall to avoid construction closures during peak business times like the holiday season, Morey said.
Also this year, College Boulevard will be widened to two lanes in both directions from Ridgeview Road to Renner Boulevard. To avoid closing the road, the department will move traffic to the center while constructing the outer lane. Morey said that while detours are not yet set, traffic will likely pick up on College Boulevard so widening the street will important.
The interchange at K-10 and Ridgeview Road will be replaced with a diverging diamond interchange this year. Like the one planned for Roe Avenue and I-435 and the one already at Homestead Lane and I-35, the interchange will feature 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.
Interchanges like this are becoming more popular because they can accommodate more traffic while reducing construction costs.
A second diverging diamond interchange is planned for 95th Street and I-35 during the Gateway’s 2016 phase.
In 2015, construction will continue at K-10 and Renner Boulevard. Reconstruction of I-435 west of I-35 will start and eastbound lanes of I-435 will be redone east of I-35. In 2016, northbound lanes of I-35 will be widened, reconstruction of I-435 will continue west of I-35 and the diverging diamond interchange at I-35 and 95th Street will be added. Like the eastbound collection road for K-10, a westbound collection road will be added.
To accommodate those collection roads, the interchange at Lackman Road and I-435 will be redone throughout 2015 and 2016. The interchange will be designed to keep traffic flowing and prevent drivers from having to weave in and out.
Even though KDOT promises an easier commute after 2016, the three years of construction will create road and lane closures, delays and detours. As that information becomes available KDOT will post it for the public, said Kimberly Qualls, KDOT public affairs manager.
Information will be available in several formats: On the project website, www.jocogateway.com, where drivers can sign up for text and email alerts, on Facebook at the “Johnson County Gateway: I-435/I-35/K-10 Interchange Study” and on Twitter with @KansasCityKDOT or #jocogateway.