Op Ed
July 6, 2007

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A highway that will affect
all of Johnson County

by James McKown and Chris Vanhoecke

A coalition of neighbors, communities and businesses has joined together to form the South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC). The volunteer group seeks to stop the South Metro Connection being promoted by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). SMOC intends to share information regarding MARC’s South Metro Connection with other neighbors and residents. SMOC has additional information available on its website at www.nosouthmetro.com.

Johnson County has twice previously considered and rejected a new highway for south Johnson County. MARC and Johnson County previously conducted the Perimeter Transportation Needs Assessment that focused on the “area outside I-435 loop” and recommended “No new perimeter freeways.”

Despite two comprehensive studies rejecting a new south Johnson County highway and continuing overwhelming public opposition, MARC has now recommended a limited access highway in south Johnson County.

Johnson County Commission Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh noted that the South Metro Study was intended to assist Cass County residents commuting to Johnson County. Surbaugh stated, “One of the reasons for this connection to Missouri was stated that the Grandview Triangle was at level F, which is in other words stalled, which it was, and that connection over to Missouri was going to allow people to get to 69 Highway who were going to College Boulevard from Missouri instead of going down and coming back this way to the Triangle.”

SMOC contends that Johnson County should not undertake the traffic problems constantly plaguing the Grandview Triangle. SMOC has noted that MARC’s recommended south metro highway will result in tens of thousands of additional commuters daily on the already congested north-south commute along US Hwy. 69.

In February 2006, the MARC Executive Board approved the South Metro Study noting that it would be a “Parkway to Highway.” At the outset of the South Metro Study, MARC widely distributed its Quick Facts referencing a “road” or “parkway,” and never mentioned its intent to consider an outer loop highway.

While MARC purportedly conducted a study to determine whether there is a need for additional transportation infrastructure, from the outset, MARC expressed preconceived opinions. In publicly announcing the study, MARC noted it will “address the inadequate rural infrastructure relative to projected population growth, land use development and increasing traffic demand.”

MARC’s assertions that the current infrastructure is “inadequate” is particularly striking in light of MARC’s own studies reflecting widespread public approval of the existing road system generally in Johnson County and specifically in south Johnson County. MARC has noted that Kansas City has more highway miles per capita than any other metropolitan area in the country.

Throughout the South Metro Connection Study, MARC has sought to overcome widespread community opposition. In its Request for Proposal for consultants regarding the South Metro Connection Study, MARC’s first criterion was the ability to overcome community resistance.

MARC’s surveys demonstrate little public support for a new highway. MARC surveys conducted in 2005 found only 13 percent of Johnson County residents expressed dissatisfaction with “Ease of travel in the County” and only 18 percent of residents disagreed with the statement that “Roads in rural areas are adequate.”

Many of those dissatisfied with rural roads base their opinion on poor maintenance by MARC and the County of existing roads as opposed to a desire for new construction. According to that 2005 survey, only 42 percent of residents were very satisfied or satisfied with “Maintenance of roads in rural areas of County.” At present, portions of many of the existing east-west connections are two-lane roads (151st, 159th, 175th, 191st and 199th streets). Moreover, portions of 175th, 191st and 199th streets are dirt roads.

As part of the South Metro Connection Study, MARC sent 1,200 surveys to residents living within the study area. The survey demonstrated overwhelming opposition to a new highway in south Johnson County. The MARC survey asked whether “The existing regional transportation system adequately serves the needs between Johnson and Cass Counties.”

Fifty percent of respondents “strongly” agreed, another more than ten percent agreed, and another almost ten percent were neutral. The MARC survey also asked whether “Local road meet needs of the area.” Over fifty percent of respondents “strongly” agreed and another nearly twenty percent agreed.

While ignoring real public input, MARC selected a Public Advisory Board. The overwhelming majority of MARC’s Advisory Board does not reside within the study area. At the first public hearing one resident asked which Public Advisory Board members actually lived within the Study Area — only seven members raised their hands.

In the summer of 2006, 265 Johnson County residents attended a public hearing at Stilwell Elementary concerning the South Metro Connection Study. County Infrastructure Director Mac Andrew noted, “No one spoke publicly in favor of the project.” Andrew elaborated that “Most of the folks that live in the study area obviously felt like there was no need for a road.”

Despite overwhelming public opposition, MARC has announced its recommended limited access highway. SMOC has noted that the project will go from 71 Highway to US Hwy. 69 with a likely expansion to I-35. MARC’s recommended route will place a highway cutting through the center of two Johnson County Park greenways.

SMOC contends that the South Metro Connection is a very ugly plan that will affect everyone in Cass and Johnson counties. You can either do something to prevent it or wonder why you took no action while stuck in traffic in an extended commute due to the thousands of extra cars brought to you by MARC and the Johnson County Commission.

For additional information, go to the SMOC web site at www.nosouthmetro.com.

James McKown and Chris Vanhoecke are residents of Johnson County, KS.


              
              
                 

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