The Overland Park City Council on Monday approved a proposal that will add $10 million to the city’s share of a project to add toll lanes to U.S. Highway 69.
A majority of councilmembers said Monday it was the best and quickest way to get improvements that have been talked about for years.
The council voted 9-2 to add overpass improvements from 167th Street and to widen a section of the road to four lanes into the express lane project.
By doing so, the council moved up the timetable on the street improvements and agreed to take on $10 million more in financial obligation to help pay for the project.
Including the street and bridge in the project would cost an extra $30 million, with $15 million coming from the newly signed federal infrastructure bill and $5 million from the state, in addition to Overland Park’s contribution.
That brings the city’s total obligation for the U.S. 69 project to $30 million.
The city council had already approved $20 million in June for the first phase of the project, which widens the highway from 103rd Street to 151st Street by adding an optional toll lane in each direction.
The addition approved Monday brings the total estimated cost of the first phase from $300 million to $330 million and means that the tolls would remain in place for three to seven years longer than originally planned.
An estimate from the state department of transportation put the new end of the tolls somewhere between 2037 and 2040.
Monday’s vote came after lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, with debate centering on whether the extension of tolls was the most appropriate funding mechanism and whether the vote should be delayed until new councilmembers and a new mayor are sworn in Dec. 6.
Councilmembers in support of the plan noted traffic study figures showing that 59% of the toll revenue would come from people who are not Overland Park residents.
They said the same chance to split funding with the state and federal government might not come along if the city waits.
“If we don’t do this, the timeline is questionable and then the money also becomes questionable,” said Councilmember Holly Grummert. “We don’t know when we’ll get to this next and we don’t know how much it will cost.”
Outgoing Councilmember Chris Newlin, who lost his bid for reelection earlier this month, said the project will eventually get the city’s most congested road more lanes, bridges, additional access and a new flyover at Blue Valley Parkway in three years.
“I heard tonight that we’re putting this on the back of our constituents,” he said, referencing some points made by opponents to the toll lanes plan. “If we do $10 million in cash — which we don’t have — we are putting it on the back of every one of our constituents. If we do the toll, 59% of it is on people who don’t live here in Overland Park.”
Councilmembers Scott Hamblin and Faris Farassati disagreed and voted against it.
Hamblin said his constituents have been suspicious all along that the toll would be used for other things.
“We haven’t even broken ground and now we’re tapping it for 167th Street. Next it will be 179th,” he said. “This is why people don’t like toll roads.”
Farassati called the idea a “piggy bank” and questioned whether the funding mechanism broke the spirit of the law. He also said the vote should wait until the newly elected councilmembers are seated.
Can toll revenue be spent on 167th work?
Technically, toll revenue can’t be spent on non-toll expenses like the widening of 167th Street, explained Lindsey Douglas, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
In this case, the 167th Street improvements and the new toll lanes will all be wrapped into one contract, with revenue moved to the appropriate spots.
State officials hope to begin the search for a contractor in January, with construction beginning next summer. Mayor-elect and current Council President Curt Skoog said he thinks the time is ripe to get the project moving.
“There are times when it is the right time for a project to happen,” he said. Because of Congress’s action, money is available now.
“Here’s $10 million that we can make a $30 million project happen without taking money away from other badly needed capital improvement road projects,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, state transportation officials told the council’s public works committee that traffic on the thoroughfare is already loud enough to justify a noise wall in 11 residential locations as far south as 151st Street.
That would add $30 million to the project, which would be paid by the state, Douglas said.
Before that happens, KDOT will hold public meetings with homeowners. If 70% of homeowners vote for the noise walls, they will be built, she said.