KDOT, Overland Park exploring what possible toll on busy 69 Highway would look like

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- If you drive through Johnson County, you know what a mess 69 Highway can be, especially during rush hour. 

The Kansas Department of Transportation is about to wrap up a study for the city of Overland Park on adding lanes and potentially using tolls to cover the cost.

It's no secret Johnson County, Kansas, is experiencing explosive growth. U.S. Highway 69 is a victim of that, with a lot more drivers adding to its wear and tear.

"It has become very congested, and it's huge population growth here, so I definitely see the need for expansion," driver Tammy Rhodes said.

The highway's concrete is nearing the end of its 50-year life span, and it bears the weight of 80,000 vehicles a day. 

So the city of Overland Park wanted to study not only replacing the pavement but also adding an extra lane both north and southbound from 103rd Street to 151st Street.

"We can't let 69 stay like this, just four lanes. It's getting worse and worse. Safety issues are getting worse and worse. So what can we do to improve it?" Mayor Carl Gerlach said.

But the cost to replace pavement and grow the highway to six total lanes would cost around $300 million, which the city and state don't have. 

That's where the possible toll lanes come in -- but not across the entire highway.

"Just a single lane being tolled where two lanes that exist today would remain without a toll. The new lane would have one, and it'd all be electronic. You wouldn't see any gates or toll booths or anything like that," KDOT Deputy Secretary Lindsey Douglas said.

Express lane fees could also be based on traffic volume and time of day: more expensive during rush hour, and next to nothing on weekends, for example.

"It'd really be seamless, and residents would have choice to stay in (the) 'free lane' or move into (the) toll lane to go a little bit faster," Douglas said.

Some drivers FOX4 talked with are OK with that idea and acknowledge something has got to be done to fix 69 Highway, which experts estimate could see traffic tie-ups triple without expansion in the next 20 years.

But paying tolls isn't popular with everyone.

"I'm just not sold with that idea. There's got to be another way," Rhodes said.

But KDOT said having optional tolls could allow Overland Park to start designing and constructing a better, wider 69 Highway faster than waiting on extra state or federal dollars to pay for it. 

And community input will be a key piece of that moving forward.

"What is the temperature for the amount of toll? Would it be feasible for this community and would people still be interested in it once they have numbers in front of them and understand what that corridor can mean," Douglas said.

The current 69 Highway study will be finished in mid-March. If things look good, KDOT and the city would begin a deeper study, involving public input.  

In the mean time, KDOT said it's working hard to get a new long-term transportation plan approved in the legislature to help press ahead on projects all across Kansas.

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