September 14, 2007
determined to stop
Public opposition continues to build against proposals to build a “parkway” (the term favored by proponents) connecting Cass County and southern Johnson County. Opponents deride the parkway term and instead consider the road a “highway.” Hundreds of residents have signed petitions opposing the proposal, which is being “facilitated” by the Mid-America Regional Council.
The South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC) hosted a public meeting and rally to demonstrate opposition to the MARC proposal on Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Blue Valley Middle School in Overland Park. More than 400 persons attended.
The Coalition is a well-funded, grassroots group of residents from the affected area and many from outside that area who feel this road will lead to sprawl and premature development in a rural area more suited to nature reserves and hiking trails than strip malls and subdivisions. Construction of the road would destroy a preserved open space and wildlife corridor. Nearby residents predict a road littered with road-kill from the surrounding wildlife habitat.
Kansas state Rep. Ray Merrick, a Johnson County Republican and Majority Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, was among those at the Sept. 6 meeting expressing strong opposition to the proposed South Metro Connector. Those who attended included professional golfer Tom Watson, who lives in the area.
MARC predicts that 35,000 additional daily commuters would use the South Metro Connector. If built, the Connector would significantly increase traffic on U.S. 69 Highway as thousands of Cass County commuters would travel west on the connector highway to access already congested U.S. 69.
The proposed route, now a gravel road situated among Indian burial grounds, forests, meandering streams and old farmsteads was chosen by MARC as the route of the so-called parkway because it is “the path of least resistance,” through an area that has more wildlife than people.
Residents of southern Johnson County contend that the South Metro Connector is not needed and will adversely impact Johnson County. Tom Linsin, a Stilwell resident and SMOC member, noted that the connector highway would promote more urban sprawl because it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy: “If you build it, they will come,” said Linsin.
The amount of traffic generated by those living in the area would not be sufficient to support such a roadway development. South Metro Opposition Coalition board member James McKown pointed out, “Because of the topography, an existing nature preserve and flood plains, MARC and Johnson County have made long-term projections that this area of southern Johnson County will have very low population density, specifically one home for every two to 10 acres. That development would barely justify an arterial road, let alone a major four-lane ‘parkway.’”
Construction of the South Metro Connector would reverse a long-standing county policy against developing an inter-state truck route in southern Johnson County. The proposed Connector would notably commences in Missouri immediately south of the Richards-Gebaur intermodal truck/train facility being developed by the Kansas City Southern, and is designed to be extended west to the new Gardener intermodal truck/train intermodal facility being developed by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Such a roadway would likely result in heavy inter-state truck traffic bound for I-35 in Kansas and U.S. 71 in Missouri.
The proposed road represents a major public expenditure with a consequent tax burden on Johnson County. The projected cost is $82,000,000, with at least $24,000,000 needed for easement rights. These costs have yet to be been funded, with construction costs likely headed nowhere but up.
The proposed route runs through a sensitive wildlife area near 175th Street and Mission Road. The area includes the Baum Nature Conservancy, future Johnson County nature parkland, and undisturbed private land, which make up a contiguous wildlife corridor and critical habitat for several threatened and “in need of conservation” species.
“One of the last remaining native forests in Johnson County listed in the Kansas Natural Heritage Inventory is located in this area and will be adversely affected by the ‘parkway’ if it is approved in this location,” said Connie Chapman, a resident who strongly opposes the road.
Charlotte O’Hara lost narrowly to incumbent Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh in last November’s general election, but O’Hara was not at the SMOC Sept. 6 meeting at Blue Valley Middle School looking for votes. O’Hara, a south Johnson County resident whose home near 179th and Lackman Road is threatened by the road, was there as a concerned citizen.
“I think the kernel of the issue is very simple,” O’Hara told eKC online. “The Johnson County Commission in 2004 reaffirmed its commitment to CARNP (Comprehensive Arterial Road Network Plan), which specifically states they will aggressively oppose interstate truck traffic on local routes, and if the South Metro Connector is built, the trucks will come, as stated by Mac Andrew, Johnson County Public Works director.
“If the County Commission wishes to change their public policy,” O’Hara continued, “they should take a public vote on it. But until they change their policy, they are bound to abide by CARNP, and the South Metro Connector violates the intents and purposes of CARNP.”
State Rep. Merrick told eKC online after the meeting that SMOC is not supportive of any route whatsoever for the South Metro Connector. Apparently trying to console — or divide — connector opponents (depending upon your point-of-view), MARC and its $500,000 consultants, HNTB Corp., have changed the proposed route for the so-called parkway several times in the past few months.
“We’re not interested in moving this highway to someone else’s backyard,” Merrick said. “We just want it stopped.
“There’s been no compelling evidence from anybody that this highway is necessary. Anything of this magnitude — ninety million dollars plus for five miles of highway — is ridiculous when there is a lot more pressing needs in Johnson County, or in the state of Kansas for road projects.
“I’m a business person,” Merrick continued. “Any time anybody’s going to spend that kind of money, they ought to be able to give me or anybody else a cost/benefit analysis of the project. MARC, HNTB or Johnson County, none of them have given us a cost/benefit analysis.”
Neither has an environmental impact statement been done and, said Merrick, “in any case, the environmental impact statement should come from an independent source, not a government agency.”
He went on to call the project on “fast forward” with proponents “trying to ram it through” without listening to what the citizens of south Johnson County have to say. Merrick added that no one at the meeting came to him in support of the road or said he was wrong not to support the proposed road.
Ann Slegman, managing editor of The Independent, a weekly journal of society, is a member of a long-time Johnson County family with land in the Connector’s path. She wrote an op-ed piece that ran a few weeks ago on the Opinion page of The Kansas City Star.
“I find it distressing that the land we’ve had in our family since the 1930s can be turned into parking for another Wal-Mart or for strip malls,” Slegman told eKC online. “A much better outcome would be to keep that land in its natural state — a nature park in conjunction with the land that Ben Brown sold to Johnson County Parks and Rec, and the land that Kenny Baum has provided to the Nature Conservancy.”
Slegman vowed to fight on against the road.
“I don’t know if we can prevail. The pressure is coming from real estate developers, MoDOT and KDOT. And I think from the railroads. They want to run big trucks from Richards-Gebaur to Gardener, back and forth. I think MARC and HNTB are working hard with the big developers.”
Tom Bogdon can be contacted at email@example.com.
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