State Avenue Connex wins recognition but popularity shows it real value
Justus Welker, director of transportation for Wyandotte County Unified Government, says it’s nice to get award recognition for the recent State Avenue Connex transit improvements but the real satisfaction is providing needed service to the people of the community.
“It’s about transporting people to where they need to go,” Welker said. “On average, that routes served 2,200 people a day.”
Nonetheless, the Connex has won recognition for its significance in urban planning. In December, the State Avenue Corridor Transit Improvements won recognition from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Kansas as the best public improvement in the state for a city of more than 50,000.
In 2011, Unified Government secured a $10.5 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which was the primary funding source for the $13 million in improvements made on the about 16-mile route along State and Minnesota avenues. Buses on the east-west routes connect the Village West Parkway in west Kansas City, Kan., to the downtown Kansas City, Mo., 10th and Main Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s Metrocenter.
The State Avenue Connex’s most noticeable upgrades, completed after a design phase that invited substantial public input, are two new transit centers at 47th Street and Michigan Avenue and at Seventh Street and Minnesota Avenue. Associated upgrades along the route included new passenger shelters and benches, landscaping and improved pedestrian connections. The city’s entry application for the ACEC award notes the Connex’s two transit centers are expected to stimulate badly needed development and that the project allowed Unified Government to participate in the “evolving transit system in the Kansas City metro area. Building upon successes of the Main Street Max and Troost Avenue Max bus lines in Kansas City, Missouri, KCK partnered with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to create infrastructure improvements to support future implementation of bus-rapid-transit service along the State Avenue corridor.”
Construction on the improvements were completed in September 2013, about a year after work started on the Connex, Welker said. It was an immediate hit.
“I really don’t have the numbers to define it, but once it was finished we had to increase the size of the buses on the Connex,” Welker said. “It is the most popular route in Wyandotte County, by far.”
Its popularity stems from the many important stops along the Connex route. It provides access to such popular westside entertainment sites as Schlitterbahn Water Park, the Kansas Speedway and Sporting Park as well as the Village West and The Legends shopping opportunities. Its route east includes a loop to Kansas City Kansas Community College just off State Avenue, the downtown Kansas City, Kan., commercial and civic hub, and finally the eastern terminus in a revitalized downtown Kansas City, Mo., where it links to transit options to the rest of the metropolitan area.
Welker said his department hadn’t surveyed ridership, but it was obvious the route served varied needs.
“I would say there is some job access and some is education based,” he said. “Some of it is retail driven, and some is recreation sports related with the venues out west. It’s a great asset to the community.”