One of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Johnson County — and in the state of Kansas for that matter — will get some relief thanks to about $14.5 million in federal funds and $1.65 million in funds from Johnson County.
Interstate 35 under the 75th Street bridge in Johnson County will be widened by one lane in each direction, with construction starting in spring of 2020, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer announced Tuesday.
“We hope that this will be a project that we’ll be very proud of, and it will certainly improve the quality of life. It’s one that I am personally very excited to see happen,” Colyer said at a news conference Tuesday evening.
The I-35/75th Street interchange is notorious for backups, especially during rush hour but also at non-peak times. It has an average daily traffic count of about 145,000 vehicles, including about 13,200 trucks.
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The problem is exacerbated because the highway has more lanes north and south of 75th Street but narrows to just three lanes in each direction at 75th Street.
“It goes from five lanes to three lanes at 75th Street,” explained Johnson County Commissioner Jim Allen, who pushed for a solution and discussed the situation with The Star. “It’s the worst bottleneck, in my opinion, in greater Kansas City.”
Allen said the situation was getting worse every year as the county grows in population.
The Kansas Department of Transportation had designed an improvement to add one lane both northbound and southbound to alleviate some of that congestion. The department was able to secure 90 percent of the money through a federal freight transportation grant but did not have state funds to make up the remaining 10 percent match.
So the Johnson County Commission voted Nov. 8 to provide $1.65 million in County Assistance Road System (CARS) funds to support the improvement. The county’s CARS money comes from the state gas tax and from a small county property tax.
Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert was at the announcement. He said this is the first time the county has agreed to contribute funds that the state normally would provide to match federal dollars, but it’s worth it. Eilert emphasized this is a one-time county contribution for state infrastructure, and it will benefit multiple local jurisdictions, including Shawnee, Merriam, Overland Park and Lenexa.
“This project I think has been on everybody’s radar for at least four or five years,” he said.
Johnson County Commissioner Steve Klika was frustrated that the county must help pay to fix what he believes was a state mistake in the highway’s design years ago, with too many lanes merging into too few lanes.
“It wasn’t done right to begin with,” he said.
But he agreed with Allen that a fix is crucial and the county can’t keep waiting for the state to find the money.
“We have to take care of it,” Klika said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
The construction is expected to take at least a year and possibly longer, although Colyer said he hopes the state will explore creative ways to speed up the process, including with nighttime construction.
Kevin Kellerman, metro engineer with the Kansas Department of Transportation, said the state will try to phase the construction process in such a way as to maintain three lanes of traffic in each direction even during the road widening, to minimize disruptions.