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Express Lanes Could Ease Traffic Jams On Highway 69, But Proposed Tolls Raise Concerns About Equity

061421_cm_Highway69
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Traffic moves along south Hwy 69 near 150th Street Monday afternoon

Traffic jams have plagued U.S. Highway 69 in Overland Park for decades. Now, the Kansas Department of Transportation proposes adding express lanes, with drivers paying a toll for access to the faster route.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is inching closer to adding express toll lanes to relieve major traffic jams on U.S. Highway 69.

After two decades contending with traffic congestion and high collision rates on the Overland Park stretch of the highway, KDOT proposed the solution at a Overland Park City Council Monday night.

The project would add an express lane going each direction between 103rd Street and 179th Street. Under the current proposal, drivers would have the option of paying the toll to use the faster lane or not.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Lindsey Douglas sought to reiterate that tolls are associated only with express lanes.

“People that use U.S. 69 today can continue to use that roadway without any change to their patterns or their behaviors,” Douglas said.

The recommendation is based on a KDOT report stating that creating new lanes without imposing a toll would cost an additional $85 million to fund. According to the report, the recommended approach has the benefit of a smaller carbon footprint, as well as lower maintenance costs.

The cost of using express lanes would fluctuate depending on time of day and distance traveled in the express lane. For a partial corridor trip in the morning, Douglas estimates the toll would reach somewhere near 50 cents; a full-corridor trip in the morning would be closer to $1.50, and the same trip in the afternoon would likely reach $1.75, according to Douglas.

The proposal drew a mixed reaction.

Councilman Faris Farassati expressed concern about inequity, pointing out that the express lane only benefits drivers who can consistently pay the toll.

“I sit there and I see these cars passing by, and I know a whole portion of this road is [funded] by my taxes,” Farassati said. “And I know that my government is authorizing that when this country is going through a significant demand of social equality and social justice.”

Overland Park residents in attendance expressed skepticism about the timeframe for such a project and state government overreach.

KDOT is asking Overland Park to contribute $20 million to the $655 million project, expected to reach completion in 2025.

The Overland Park City Council is expected to vote on whether to move forward with the project next week.

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