news feature
September 21, 2007

 

 

 

‘Smart Growth’ less a
consideration for MARC when it
comes to South Metro Connector

by Tom Bogdon

Mell Henderson, transportation director for the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), said he supports a conservation plan as a guide for development in the metropolitan area, and that ideally such a plan should be developed for portions of Johnson County before approval is given to build the proposed South Metro Connector, which, as proposed, would cut through the environmentally fragile southeast quadrant of the county.

“We don’t have a conservation plan now,” said. Henderson. “We have interest in developing one, but we do not currently have one. I think we would all be well served to have a conservation plan — and not just for this particular study.”

Henderson, who heads MARC’s 25-member transportation planning staff, has a key role in the ongoing study of the controversial six-mile South Metro Connector. (See eKC articles by Tom Bogdon at www.kcactive.com/news/newsfeat/newsfeat2007_06_08.htm and www.kcactive.com/news/newsfeat/newsfeat2007_09_14.htm.)

Developing a conservation plan was addressed by Edward T. McMahon at the June 1 MARC annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel, which was attended by more than 500 people.

McMahon, a fellow of the Washington-based Urban Land Institute, and recognized nationally as a leading authority on “sustainable growth,” often called Smart Growth, co-authored Smart Growth on the Suburban Fringe.

McMahon, in his 40-minute speech, said in part:

“One of the things that I’d like to say is every community in this room has a long-range transportation plan. But I want to suggest to you that you also need a long-range conservation plan. Some people might call that a green infrastructure plan.

“No amount of mitigation will lessen the impact of this major roadway will have upon the native animals and birds in this wildlife corridor," said Connie Chapman with the South Metro Opposition Coalition. (photo courtesy of Connie Chapman)

“There’s lots of good environmental reasons I could tell you for why you should do that, but let me tell you this: Having a long-range conservation plan is one of the single best ways we have in America to reduce opposition to development. That’s right. A long-range conservation plan can help you reduce opposition to development.

“Why is that?” McMahon asked. “We’ve learned that if people think that all land is up for grabs everywhere, then somebody’s going to fight every development everywhere.”

McMahon believes that if government or a governmental body had “a long-range conservation plan, it becomes easier to facilitate and encourage development in the places you want it, while giving citizens some assurances the special places in your region will be preserved for the future, and then it becomes easier to get the resources to help preserve those resources for the future….”

Henderson acknowledged that the part of southeast Johnson County that MARC, local governments and the HNTB consulting firm are looking at as the route for a $90 million divided roadway is a semi-rural, environmentally significant area.

Henderson noted that a February 2005 MARC metropolitan environmental inventory titled “On the Map” had the following to say about planning for conservation:

“Growth of the Kansas City region into southern Johnson County, Kansas, threatens the Blue River and its abundant natural resources within its watershed.”

The NRI (Natural Resources Inventory) data in “On the Map,” notes that flood protection, particularly downstream along the Blue River in Jackson County, becomes “more manageable” with conservation planning.

“In an ideal world, we would develop a conservation plan first,” said Henderson. “In this case (the South Metro Connector), we have the local governments, which are interested in studying this corridor and they provided the resources to do that, asked MARC to coordinate the effort.

“I think the effectiveness of a conservation plan that MARC might develop would be closely tied to local governments adopting similar plans,” Henderson added.

“I think it is important to understand that Johnson County is very supportive of both the existing rural character and environmental features that make that area so desirable,” said Dean Palos, Johnson County director of planning. “That’s reflected in our county comprehensive plan and in CARNP (County Arterial Road Network Plan),”.

“What we’re trying to balance is preserving the characteristics of the area with the need to improve transportation in the area,” Palos continued.

The county planning director said that only gravel roads now exist in the area and to mitigate the environmental impact of the South Metro Connector, it could initially be built as just a two-lane roadway, then expanded to a four-lane divided “parkway” as traffic volume increases. Palos also said that “wildlife conduits” would be built under the road to deal with the problem of nightly road kill.

“HNTB traffic studies indicate that the road would carry 35,000 vehicles a day by 2030,” Palos said, adding that as far as a conservation plan for the area is concerned, “We feel we already have adequate environmental information.”

Palos also questioned the strength and intensity of opposition to the South Metro Connector of residents in south Johnson County and elsewhere. He noted that “visioning meetings” going back to the 1980s showed strong support for a road similar to the South Metro Connector.

“I think there’s a lot of support for the South Metro Connector,” Palos said, adding that he saw no reason for residents to be concerned about thousands of heavy diesel trucks using the roadway.

Palos said he felt that the Johnson County Commission generally supports the concept of the South Metro Connector plan as proposed by HNTB, and that the commissioners also feel the plan meets the guidelines adopted with CARNP.

Steve Baru, political director and former chair of the Kansas Sierra Club, disagrees strongly with Palos’ assertion that the South Metro Connector complies with Johnson County’s CARNP policy.

Baru, a member of the South Metro Partnership, an advisory group, said it has not been proven that a “triggering” mechanism for new road construction in southeast Johnson County has been met.

The “triggering” mechanism was adopted to dampen rampant, runaway development on the suburban fringe in Johnson County, often referred to as urban sprawl. Thus, no road would be built before its time. Baru says he has seen no evidence that population and traffic growth in southeast Johnson County has reached the level to justify the South Metro Connector.

“In his (Palos’) dreams,” Baru said. “They need to do traffic counts. To my knowledge there haven’t been any traffic counts conducted. CARNP did not plan for any streets out there, and so there are no streets.

“I’ve read that there’s Cass County traffic coming to Johnson County for jobs. I’ve heard that claim. But I haven’t seen any proof. And I have not heard any claims of Johnson County residents who want to travel to Cass County.

“The bottom line here is the need for the South Metro Connector trafficway has not been established,” Baru continued. “What makes it worse is that this area is wildlife habitat which is planned for preservation through the park system.”

Baru said the tracts of land the South Metro Connector would use for right-of-way “are unique to Johnson County and the metropolitan area because a few landowners own most of the acreage and these few landowners are willing to preserve their land through the park system.”

Baru said these landowners are not going to fall for the “prisoners’ dilemma game’ in which the one makes the first deal and gets the best deal.

“The bottom line here is the need for the South Metro Connector trafficway has not been established,” said Steve Baru with the Kansas Sierra Club. (photo courtesy of Steve Baru)

“Instead, they’re all solidly against any deal and the totality of the land they own would make a regional-sized wildlife preserve unique to our area,” Baru said.

This message was formally taken to the Johnson County Parks Board on Sept. 19 by Connie Chapman, an area resident and environmental researcher for the South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC).

Commenting on planning director Palos’ assertion that the wildlife preserve and the roadway are compatible, Chapman told eKC online: “No amount of mitigation will lessen the impact of this major roadway will have upon the native animals and birds in this wildlife corridor. This special natural area of Johnson County is one of the few of its size and caliber that remain here.

“It contains one of the last pieces of native forest left in the county as documented in the Kansas Natural Heritage inventory, and contains critical habitat for two John son County threatened species, as substantiated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.”

James McKown, a southeast Johnson County resident who is research director for the South Metro Opposition Coalition, said the South Metro Connector would eventually become a short cut for big trucks traveling between I-35 in Kansas and U.S. 71 in Missouri.

“If a business were developing a billion-dollar facility that reportedly would have as many as 30,000 trucks a day serving that facility, then the business would logically be interested in a brand new highway or parkway to take some of those trucks to U.S. 71 Highway,” said McKown.

“If you simply look at MARC’s proposal for the South Metro Connector, it begins immediately south of the Richards-Gebaur interposal facility and will ultimately be extended west to I-35,.” McKown added..

According to McKown, Henderson said as much in a July 17, 2006 letter to Congressman Dennis Moore (a Kansas Democrat) in reference to a HNTB study in 2006:

Gary Mallory, chair of the MARC board of directors, also is presiding commissioner of Cass County. Mallory, a former Belton mayor, and a commissioner of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. Add to that, Mallory is campaign treasurer of state Sen. Chris Koster, a Cass County Democrat who is expected to soon announce his candidacy for Missouri Attorney General.

Along with these positions, Mallory is a board member of Kansas City SmartPort, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1998 to enhance the freight industry in Kansas City and to promote international trade, particularly with Mexico, China and other Asian countries. Other members of the 25-member board include representatives of the Kansas City Southern Railroad (which will use the Richards-Gebaur inter modal facility; the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (which is developing the Gardner inter modal facility); the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; and the Kansas City Area Development Council. David Warm, executive director of MARC, also sits on the SmartPort board.

Mallory told eKC online that he had seen advantages to an east-west roadway through Cass County that would extend from Holmes Road to 187th and U.S. 71.

“I don ‘t think there has to be a conflict between transportation and conservation,” Mallory said. “I think that with every proposed roadway, wherever it is located, those same environmental; arguments can be made.”

One corridor where environmental considerations may not collide with economic development considerations lies just south of the Johnson County line in Miami County, which was recently accepted into membership in MARC.

“It’s growing down here, but the growth patterns here are 25 years behind where they are there,” said Jim Wise, Miami County Commission chair.

Wise said that his county would welcome the opportunity to discuss an east/west road between Miami County and Cass County that would fulfill most of the objectives of the South Metro Connector. Like the Sierra Club’s Steve Baru, Wise is on the advisory board for the South Metro Connector study.

Wise, who said much of his county is farmland, would like to strengthen the county’s ties to MARC and Greater Kansas City. But he said he would leave it to others to start a dialogue about possibly moving the western end of the South Metro Connector to Miami County.

“That’s where any movement on the South Metro Connector would have to come from, MARC or KDOT,” Wise said. “Those are the ones who would have to make that decision, not Miami County.”

Henderson, the MARC transportation director, said: “I see him (Wise) at our board meetings. I would like to have a one-on –one conversation with him. I’d like to be aware of Miami County’s point of view.”

Henderson said the next step in the South Metro study would be for MARC, HNTB and other entities to evaluate the feedback they received from citizens at a Thursday, Sept. 27 Open House at the Stilwell Elementary School gymnasium, 6410 W. 199th, in Stilwell, set for 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at tjbogdon@yahoo.com.


              
              
                 

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