Residents living along a section of 143rd Street on the line between Olathe and Overland Park are finally getting help with a road they’ve described for years as dangerous.
The two cities on Thursday unveiled their plans for reconstructing a mile-long section of 143rd between Quivira and Pflumm roads at an open house for area residents.
The section currently resembles many similar rural routes. It’s a narrow two-lane road with virtually no shoulder, the edges bordered by drainage ditches or woods and metal guardrails. The pavement is crumbling in some places and lighting is poor. Large humps in the road can make it difficult for drivers pulling out onto the road from one of the many adjacent subdivisions.
“It’s a blind turn coming off our street because you can’t see over the hill; you turn and just hope no one, like a school bus, is coming,” said Leslie Ewald, who lives off Gillette Street. She and husband, Joel, were two of several dozen residents who attended the meeting and studied aerial photos of the street with the proposed changes superimposed.
Beginning in 2017, the two cities — Overland Park on the north and Olathe on the south — plan to widen the roadway from 22 feet to 36 feet and add a new bike lane. They also will add a dedicated turn lane at the intersection of 143rd with Westgate Street and Caenen Lane, as well as widen and do additional improvements at the street’s intersections with Quivira and Pflumm roads. They also plan to improve sight distances along the road by grading some of the larger humps and filling in some of the deeper dips. The road also will get curbs and gutters and new drainage culverts.
In addition to the improvements on the road itself, planners are adding a sidewalk to the north side and a meandering multi-use biking and walking trail along the south side.
“There are a lot of pedestrian amenities,” said Kip Strauss, transportation planning director for HNTB, the engineering firm handling the project.
Residents said they’ve long requested improvements to the road, and representatives from Olathe and Overland Park said the project has been near the top of their priorities for some time. Two events in recent years have further highlighted the road’s inadequacies.
In July 2012, Olathe East High School senior Nate Trinkle died when the vehicle he was riding in swerved off the road and struck a tree and a guardrail.
In November 2013, the Olathe City Council rejected Wheatley Hills, a proposed multi-use development at 143rd and Pflumm Road, partly out of concern that the street couldn’t handle the additional traffic.
Strauss said engineers were just beginning their traffic study of the road during the Wheatley Hills debate and decided to include potential development at the intersection in their calculations. He said the widened road would meet estimated traffic needs in the area through 2040, accommodating up to an average of 12,000 vehicles a day. Currently, the daily average is almost 7,000.
“That’s well within the parameters of a two-lane road and you even have a little cushion,” Strauss said.
For the most part, residents welcomed the wider lanes and additional improvements to the road. But many still had concerns, such as whether the improvements would spur another round of proposed development at the old Wheatley Hills site.
They also said they were disappointed that the road construction wouldn’t solve significant drainage problems on the north side of the road that sometimes flood residents’ property during heavy rains. While engineers said they don’t expect the improvements to contribute additional stormwater runoff, residents Chris and Merrie Riley said there are so many staff members from both cities and HNTB involved that something could fall through the cracks.
“Those of us who live there get a much scarier picture,” Chris Riley said.
Jim and Ros Thorpe, who live off 143rd and Gillette streets, said they had hoped the road would be expanded to four lanes, matching the size of the street east of Quivira Road. They also said they disagreed with plans to increase the street’s current 35 mph speed limit to 40.
“There’s already a speed problem,” Ros Thorpe said.
Bill and Connie Young, of Olathe, live nearby and regularly drive through the area. They said they’ll just be glad to no longer fear driving down 143rd Street.
“We use it to go to church, but we don’t use it at night,” said Bill Young. “This will solve all our problems. So it’s just a matter of waiting for it.”
Jeff LeMire, public works project manager for Olathe, said city officials would hold additional public meetings about the project as they and their counterparts in Overland Park begin buying right-of-way and finalizing plans.
The two sides signed an interlocal agreement in August 2013 to cooperate on the project and will split much of the cost.
LeMire could not provide many financial details, but the cities’ request for funds last year from the Mid-America Regional Council, which disperses federal transportation dollars, said the entire project was estimated to cost $11.2 million.