June 8, 2007
open house reveals widespread opposition to roadway plan
The proposed South Metro Connector roadway violates a 1999 agreement the Johnson County Commission and citizens groups reached after the defeat of the 21st Century Parkway, according to a Sierra Club leader.
Steve Baru, an executive board member of the Kansas Sierra Club, said the 1999 agreement, called County Arterial Road Network Plan, or CARNP, was ratified unanimously by the county commission after it was hammered out by representatives of diverse citizens groups after the commission dropped plans for the controversial 21st Century Parkway.
“I predict the Johnson County Commission will back away from the proposed connector once they realize the connector would violate CARNP,” Baru told eKC online following a contentious June 5 open house regarding the connector project, which was held at Lakewood Middle School near 147th and Metcalf Ave.
Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh, the only current commissioner who was on the commission when CARNP was ratified, was in all-day budget hearings this week and could not be reached for comment.
Baru, who served on the CARNP Committee along with Johnson County Sun columnist Steve Rose and others, said it appears the South Metro Connector violates several provisions of the CARNP plan that relate to protecting the environment and restricting heavy truck traffic.
The South Metro Connector Study Team involves representatives of Johnson County, Cass County, KDOT, MoDOT, Overland Park, Belton, Olathe and the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). The study is being conducted by HNTB, consulting engineers, under a $500,000 contract.
Several hundred persons attended all or part of the four-hour open house, many of them outraged by various aspects of the proposed “parkway,” which would extend about six miles from an interchange at 179th Street and U.S. 69 Highway on the west to 181st Street and Holmes Road in Cass County on the east. There it would connect with the North Cass Parkway. The North Cass roadway will link up with U.S. 71 Highway.
According to many, if not most of those who attended the open house, the so-called parkway is a thinly disguised highway to facilitate the movement of heavy trucks to and from the BNSF intermodal facility near Gardner in Johnson County, and arriving and departing trucks from the Kansas City Southern’s intermodal facility at the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Missouri near Belton.
According to Baru, truck usage of the South Metro Connector in Johnson County would violate the CARNP agreement.
“I believe there are several possible violations of CARNP, but I’m certain the road violates the provision in CARNP that states it is county policy to restrict truck traffic on county and neighborhood roads,” Baru said.
According to Baru, Guiding Principle 9 of CARNP states in part: “Johnson County will take aggressive action to discourage through truck traffic on local routes….”
The Sierra Club helped organize overwhelming public opposition to the 21st Century Parkway in the 1990s, and Baru said it is likely the environmental group would be active in opposing the South Metro Connector.
Also strongly opposed to the connector is state Rep. Raymond Merrick, whose district includes south Johnson County and the Kansas portion of South Metro Connector route. Merrick, a Republican, is majority leader of the Kansas House. Merrick attended the open house and was interviewed by eKC online the next day.
“The people in the area who are going to be affected by this have not been kept apprised of where and when the meetings are — some have, some haven’t,” Merrick said. “This affects a lot more people than those directly in the path where this road is being proposed. As I talk to people, I’ve found that even some of those who are directly affected are not being told where the meetings are.”
Merrick said the South Metro Connector is not something that falls under his jurisdiction as a state representative, and he will not have a vote in the final outcome. However, he said many Johnson County residents feel they are not being represented by anybody in this matter and they are his constituents.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are kept informed of when the meetings are and about the details of the plan as I find out what it is,” Merrick said. “I will continue to support these people and be their voice to the MARC Board and the county commission regarding this roadway.”
Merrick said the South Metro Connector Plan, as he sees it, has no benefit for the area or the people it is supposed to serve.
“It is a plan initiated by Cass County to benefit the people of Cass County,” Merrick said. “This is where the truck traffic will come from, and the people deserve a straight answer to the question about trucks from Gardner and coming west from Richards-Gebaur. You just don’t put a highway or a parkway through an area that has good houses that have been there for years and years.
“You also don’t put a road like this through where there is one of the most scenic areas of Johnson County just to satisfy the needs of Cass County residents,” Merrick added.
During the open house, held in the school’s gym, attendees viewed screen images of beautiful, bucolic scenes of existing parkways. One parkway shown was the George Washington Parkway in Washington D.C. But there were few cars in these pictures and no trucks. Several persons attending the open house claimed these pictures were misleading.
“Why are they showing pictures without any vehicles?” asked Chris Vanhoecke, who attended the open house with his wife Theresa; they live on 40 acres on 175th Street in Stilwell, and their property would be directly affected by the road.
“Why are they lying to us about this being a parkway?” Vanhoecke asked. “It’s a truck route. It’s the 21st Century Parkway done five miles at a time. If in fact this is only a five-mile stretch of roadway we’re talking about, why is MARC being paid by Olathe? Olathe is miles to the west of this location.
“The biggest problem I have is our county government lying to us about what this thing is,” Vanhoecke continued. “It’s a superhighway for trucks to get from the BNSF Intermodal in Gardner to 71 Highway and Richards-Gebaur, an off-loading area for Kansas City Southern trains.
“I think they’re putting lipstick on a pig and trying to sell it to us as a Prom date,” Vanhoecke said.
Connie Chapman, who lives on 175th Street between Mission Road and Kenneth Road, said she does not live as close to the proposed road as some do, adding: “We’ll see it and hear it.
“I’m incredibly concerned about trucks,” Chapman said. “It seems that is the main problem with this plan, that they’re not addressing the fact that trucks, semi-trailers, that are looking to cross over into the other state from Kansas or Missouri, will be trying to avoid going through downtown Kansas City or across I-435 and are going to want to use this road.
“The point is if you’re in Gardner and want to go south on 71 Highway or east on I-70, you’re going to look for the quickest and shortest route,” Chapman said. “Will trucks use this road to travel east and west? Will this be a connecting link between U.S. 71 and I-35?
“That question is not being answered,” Chapman said. “They do not have the answer to that. They act as if we’re too stupid to understand.”
David A. Lindstrom, a former Chiefs player who now is a businessman and Third District County Commissioner, was besieged at the open house with such questions and frank comments about the South Metro Connector.
Lindstrom, who said he has not made up his mind about the project, told eKC online that he will get “accurate information, definite answers to their questions.”
Asked when these answers will be forthcoming, Lindstrom said, “I think tonight was part of the process. The people got a lot of information. We will continue to develop the process of addressing the transportation needs in Johnson County.”
Tom Bogdon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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