KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas Department of Transportation will host its first public town hall meeting to discuss its plans to expand U.S. 69 Highway in Overland Park, Kansas, from 103rd Street to 179th Street and collect feedback on whether to install express toll lanes to help pay for the expansion.
KDOT Deputy Secretary Lindsey Douglas said the plan is still in the “early stages.” The department has made no final decision on whether to install tolls.
Collecting input from the public is part of the environmental assessment required to move forward with the project. Douglas said that stretch of road is the most congested four-lane corridor in the state. She pointed to studies from 2016 and 2018 which showed adding a lane of travel in both the northbound and southbound directions would improve safety, reduce congestion and lead to more predictable traffic flow.
Over the course of its assessment and public comment periods, KDOT hopes to determine exactly what are the necessary improvements and whether an express toll lane is a good way to pay for those necessary improvements.
State law prohibits KDOT from collecting tolls on an existing road. Only new express toll lanes would charge a user fee. Douglas said express toll lanes could improve traffic flow for everyone on the road.
“By allowing that additional capacity, whether or not you want to pay the toll, it’s still going to improve your travel time because some people are going to decide to pay the toll,” she explained.
The price of the toll would depend on traffic volume with rates going up during rush hour and staying low during less busy time periods.
Douglas said collecting tolls would allow KDOT to pay for and build the project more quickly than searching for funding elsewhere.
But not everyone 41 Action News spoke to liked the idea of a toll.
“I’m pretty much not with that idea mostly because usually that is a stepping stone to more tolls, more taxation and that sort of thing,” Daniel Bauerkemper said.
Another driver who uses 69 Highway daily said she’d find an alternate route before paying a toll.
“No, I wouldn’t pay it,” Odessa Meadows said. “I would take the [side] streets because where I work, it’s not that far for me to take the streets.”
Because of COVID-19, traffic volume on the corridor dropped by about 6 percent in 2020. But KDOT believes expanding the corridor remains necessary long-term because the southern part of Overland Park is expected to grow for the next several decades.
“We want to look for solutions that are innovative and help us control congestion for the long-term,” Douglas said.
You can participate in the virtual town hall Wednesday, Jan. 20, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. by registering online. KDOT is accepting feedback about the project through its website until Jan. 31. It will host a second public meeting in the fall. Construction would not begin on the project until 2022 at the earliest.