Council fears K-7 changes will hurt economy
The Bonner Springs City Council has a “chicken or the egg” dilemma — deciding if Kansas Highway 7 interchanges will spur or scare away economic development in the city.
After another meeting with Kansas Department of Transportation officials May 14, the council continues to be dissatisfied with the negative effects they predict will occur in the city if K-7 is turned into a freeway. The council likely will cover the issue again at today’s budget retreat, scheduled at 5:30 p.m. at the fire department training room, 3001 Metropolitan Ave., and try to decide if it will formally pull out of a memorandum of understanding with KDOT for K-7.
When KDOT officials met with the council before its May 14 meeting, they reviewed the various steps that were taken — and several other interchange designs considered — in order to arrive at today’s plans. They also discussed the city of Olathe’s decision to withdraw its support of K-7 as a freeway.
Chris Herrick, director of planning and development for KDOT, said that they have had many discussions with Olathe but had just recently received the city’s letter officially stating opposition to the freeway plan.
Olathe understands the need for higher traffic capacity, but was backing out of the MOU due to “economic and political pressures,” Herrick said. So the state was working to do a restudy of Olathe’s section of K-7 to determine other options.
Council members replied that Bonner was feeling similar “pressures” — more, in fact, as they said Kansas Avenue and K-7 was a major contributor to Bonner Springs’ economy, whereas K-7 through Olathe was just a small part of Olathe’s overall economy.
Council members worried that the interchanges would split the community and encourage motorists to pass through Bonner rather than stop to patronize its businesses. While KDOT officials said there was evidence that creating an interchange would help spur development, city officials didn’t seem convinced.
“Let’s open up the toolbox and look at more tools than just a hammer for this thing,” John Helin, city manager, said.
Mayor Clausie Smith said the city has had several prospective developers tell them they didn’t like the interchange plans, so they would rather develop elsewhere. He said the state needed to look at solutions to make it easier for traffic to access businesses.
“This is our lifeblood, and we don’t want to see that go down the drain,” he said.
Council member Rodger Shannon asked why KDOT would look at a redesign for Olathe but not Bonner.
Herrick said plans for the future of K-7 in Olathe weren’t as advanced as those in Bonner. Aaron Frits, road squad leader for KDOT, said the nearness of the intersections at Kansas Avenue and at 130th Street to I-70 required that all three have interchanges that would work together.
With the traffic that is being projected based on future development, Kansas Avenue will not work as an at-grade intersection, Frits said.
“The desire is not to split the community and the desire is not to move traffic through faster,” Frits said. “…We have a duty to make that intersection safe, and obviously with the accidents that have happened recently, that is a concern with us.”
But that brought forth another point of contention — Helin said that Kansas Avenue and K-7 has been listed in the top 5 percent of most dangerous intersections, but the state has done nothing as far as other safety measures, though construction of an interchange is likely years away.
Frits and Herrick said the state was looking into other funding options to make some safety improvements at the intersection, saying it was an unfortunate oversight the improvements had not been made already.
Council member Jeff Harrington suggested that some improvements made in the interim before building an interchange might significantly lessen the need for one, but KDOT officials disagreed — they said safety improvements would not be long-term solutions.