October 19, 2007
build’ option not a MARC option
A Mid-America Regional Council official sidestepped questions this week about whether MARC has been biased in favor of building the controversial $90 million South Metro Connector trafficway.
Tom Gerend, assistant transportation director for MARC and senior official on the South Metro Connector study team, did not directly answer questions about whether key environmental information was being withheld from the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.
The BOCC will vote in late December or early January about whether to proceed with the six-mile roadway from Cass County, MO, through the still semi-rural and ecologically fragile Blue River watershed in southeast Johnson County
Specifically, Gerend was asked in an on-line interview with eKC online about the lack of input into the Study Team’s recommendations from Patti Banks Associates (PBA), a Kansas City-based landscape architect and environmental planning firm headed up by Banks.
Banks, who has separate ongoing contracts with both MARC and the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department for consulting on hiking trail development and other environmental work, has a $24,680 contract with MARC to perform other specific professional services in connection with the South Metro Connector study.
Gerend, the MARC project director, was asked to summarize Banks’ contract:
Gerend: Patti Banks Associates (PBA) is an environmental planning and landscape architectural consulting firm. She has been brought on to provide supplemental support for analysis related to environmental planning; more specifically to evaluate opportunities for regional trail connectivity, identify opportunities to incorporate parks and open space, and help inform a set of guiding principles that will be used to guide any future roadway improvement in the (South Metro) corridor.
eKC online: Has PBA submitted one or more written reports summarizing her findings? If she has not provided written reports, could you summarize her oral evaluations?
Gerend: PBA has submitted a regional trail map outlining potential trail connections, and provided insight regarding opportunities related to parks and open space. She has not submitted a written report on these items as her work is ongoing. Her contribution regarding the aforementioned tasks include:
Trails—Helped to identify a needed east-west trail corridor; helped to identify possible connections to the Katy Trail.
Parks and Open Space—Evaluated the implications of the alignment through the Johnson County Park and suggested utilization of existing right-of-way as a preferred strategy. This has been incorporated into the formal concept recommendation.
eKC online: Point 5 of the PBA Contract specifies, “Create a list of guiding principles to help direct and guide the POTENTIAL (emphasis added) roadway development …”. And I believe that one of the options specified in the South Metro Connection parameters was “no build.” Has PBA submitted such a list? And has PBA been asked for her consultant’s professional opinion on the build/no build option?
Gerend: A list of guiding principles is planned to be developed as a part of the next stage of the study, and as such has not been developed to date. PBA’s work is focused on supplementing the work areas previously mentioned, and does not include an evaluation of concept types.
eKC online: You say that the “list of guiding principles to help direct and guide the potential roadway for development in a manner consistent with the aforementioned preservation opportunities” (language from the PBA contract) is “planned to be developed as a part of the next stage of the study, and as such has not been developed to date.” (taken from the previous answer).
According to the “Fee for Service” portion of PBA’s contract, that task not only seems to be one of the most important tasks but also is contracted for 40 hours of work at an average hourly rate of $120.
In view of the above, I’m wondering why Banks’ work seems to begin in large part after Johnson County and the other jurisdictions (as well as MARC) essentially give a go-ahead on the South Metro project pending only the environmental phase of the project.
Isn’t that sequencing kind of putting the cart before the horse? And wouldn’t it make more sense for MARC, the Johnson County BOCC and other decision-makers to have the benefit of PBA’s expertise and recommendations before decisions are made to move ahead with the project, involving more expenditure of public money? After all, the primary objections of the roadway opponents are on environmental grounds.
Gerend: A component of the anticipated action by local governments will be to approve a consistent Memorandum of Understanding that outlines how these guidelines will get developed. There are two decisions to be made and both require separate processes to help inform them: 1) the concept type and location of the facility, and 2) the specific design of that facility. The upcoming local jurisdiction review and action is in response to process #1, whereas the development of the guiding principles relate to process #2.
eKC online: I believe there is a no-build option, which the Johnson County BOCC and the other jurisdictions can consider. A public hearing on the overall project — including the no build option — is to be set in a BOCC work session Nov. 8, according to Commissioner Dave Lindstrom. Then a BOCC build/no build vote will be taken in late December or early January, Lindstrom told eKC online.
As I stated previously, the intense public opposition to the South Metro roadway is based almost entirely on environmental grounds. Opponents want a major park and wildlife preserve developed as an alternative to a $90 million road, which they believe will cause more urban sprawl and interfere with an area of Johnson County, which MARC itself has identified as a sensitive ecosystem.
I repeat: Isn’t delaying Patti Banks’ recommendation of Guiding Principles, which is her main contribution to the study, until after a build/no build decision is already made depriving the BOCC — as well as the public — of information they should have to make an informed decision? Isn’t this approach an indication of bias on the part of MARC and consultant HNTB Corp.?
Gerend: You are correct; no-build is an option that all the local governments can consider now or in the future. This is emphasized by the fact the local governments will be responsible for funding any design, right-of-way acquisition or construction of any future facility.
I should also mention no-build was an option that was considered by the study team has not selected as a component of the study team’s recommendation moving forward due to insufficient infrastructure currently in place (gravel roads, low-water crossings), safety and congestion considerations, inadequate east-west connectivity, and the projections of continued residential and employment growth.
Again, the decision before the local jurisdictions is regarding the concept type and location. The PBA assistance regarding guiding principles will advise specific design parameters. As part of the federal process, we are actually encouraged to hold on these specific design elements until or after the environmental assessment. As the work done during this phase will likely influence these later decisions.
eKC online: So you maintain that MARC is not biased in its conduct of the South Metro study, and that the Johnson County BOCC will have all the environmental information they will need to make an informed build/no build decision in late December or early January, even without the Guiding Principles that will now be delivered to decision-makers at some future, unspecified date by the only environmental voice on the study team, Patti Banks Associates?
Gerend: MARC’s role in the study is to help facilitate a multi-jurisdictional effort, ensure that an effective and transparent engagement process is conducted, and present a recommendation that is coordinated seamlessly across jurisdictions and supported by technically sound information. Ultimately, it will be up to local elected officials to determine if there is sufficient information to adequately support acting on the related recommendation.
eKC online: Thank you.
It should be noted that Patti Banks, the principal officer of Patti Banks Associates, was made fully aware of the contents of this story, but chose not to comment for the record.
However, state Rep. Ray Merrick, a south Johnson County Republican who is majority leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, was willing to offer a few comments about the Tom Gerend interview and MARC’s role in the South Metro Connector push.
“My take on it is that if you’re going to hired someone like her (Patti Banks), you would want her input before the fact so the people voting on this — the BOCC, Overland Park, Olathe, and so forth — would have all the information to help them make a reasonable, informed decision,” Merrick said.
“But she (Banks) is being paid chump change compared to HNTB,” Merrick continued. “MARC is acting like it’s a foregone conclusion that this road is going to go through, and it’s not up to MARC to make that decision.”
Merrick said many of his constituents and other Johnson Countians he has spoken with have complained that MARC and HNTB hold meetings, acting as if they’re seeking public input, “when its obvious to me they (MARC and HNTB) haven’t listened to what people who are against the project have to say.
“Patti Banks was hired for her expertise, but MARC’s attitude is ‘so what? We don’t need her input,’” Merrick said.
Tom Bogdon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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