Warning drivers: Gardner Road exit off I-35 a morning menace

If you’re planning to drive south on Interstate 35 toward Gardner in the early weekday hours, law enforcement and county officials have a message for you: Look out for cars on the shoulder at the Gardner Road exit.

And if you work at the nearby logistics park there’s a message for you, too: Please, please drive a little farther and get off at the Homestead Lane exit.

While rapid growth at the Logistics Park Kansas City has been warmly welcomed, the area hasn’t gotten off without some growing pains. Currently, officials are trying to work out what to do about traffic congestion at the Gardner Road exit that reaches dangerous levels during the 6:30 to 7 a.m. period, especially on Wednesdays. That is the time Amazon and workers are all trying to get to their jobs.

The problem is the configuration of the Gardner Road interchange, said Gardner Mayor Chris Morrow. The interchange, deemed functionally obsolete by the Mid-America Regional Council, is too small, for one thing.

Add to that the fact that people exiting are trying to make a quick right onto a crowded two-lane and then a quick left onto another small road, 191st Street, and you have the makings of a big problem. The long waits for that left turn delay incoming traffic until it backs up down the exit ramp and even along the Interstate shoulder.

The problem was particularly acute during the holiday season, when as many as 200 cars could be seen lining the highway, officials said.

It’s that line of stopped cars and the highway-speed approaching traffic that most concerns Sheriff Calvin Hayden. There have been accidents, including one that involved an off-uty sheriff’s deputy, he said.

“The exit ramp is the most dangerous part because of the high speed,” of oncoming traffic, Hayden said. “Thank God we haven’t had a fatality out there. But there’s a strong possibility.”

The Gardner Road exit, estimated to be about 50 years old, was never intended as the main way for people to get to the Logistics Park. For that, local and state highway officials built a new Homestead Lane intersection that can accommodate truck traffic and has an efficient diverging diamond design, Morrow said.

But Gardner Road is the first exit for people approaching from the metro area. And since there is a way to access the park via 191st Street, people are using it as a shortcut.

The area has experienced huge growth since the opening of the BNSF Intermodal freight facility, but the Gardner Road exit ramp issue became most acute once Amazon and opened up, he said.

Now city and county officials are trying to work out what to do. County Commissioner Mike Brown met with Gardner and Edgerton city and law enforcement officials to discuss approaches to the problem. Their options will probably be some combination of stepped-up enforcement and new signage. There’s already a portable lighted sign urging people to use the Homestead exit.

Building a new Gardner Road interchange would be up to the Kansas Highway Department, which is already strapped for funds, Brown said. But KDOT may be brought into the conversation eventually, as local authorities try other things, he said.

Morrow said he hopes the state can make the interchange a priority, given the profound safety problem at the exit ramp.

Edgerton Mayor Donald Roberts said he appreciates the benefits of the Logistics Park, which has created 3,000 new jobs in Edgerton since 2013. He’d like to see more signs directing logistics workers onto more efficient routes.