OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Would you pay to avoid heavy metro traffic on your commute?
The 69 Highway expansion project is looking at how best to improve one of Kansas’ busiest highways between 103rd and 179th streets.
But some say these “Lexus Lanes” will be good for the “haves” and not so good for the “have nots.”
Nine out of 10 people surveyed agree 69 Highway needs improvements. Ron Achelpohl, director of transportation with the Mid America Regional Council, said their latest forecast calls for continued growth in Overland Park, Johnson County and along the 69 Highway corridor.
“About 197,000 more people in the county, about 51,000 more people in the city of Overland Park, but about 57,000 more people living along the U.S. 69 corridor, so those are pretty significant growth rates,” Achelpohl said of the area’s future.
Add that to the the 80,000 cars and trucks currently traveling along that corridor every day, and it gives you a sense of how crowded the highway could become.
That’s why experts say commuters need additional travel choices or changes to land use around the corridor. Without expansion, it could get a lot worse.
So why not build more lanes? Transportation experts say it would be too expensive.
What about toll roads? They proved very unpopular.
But express tolls are different.
“It would be all electronic tolling,” said Lindsey Douglas, Deputy Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation. “So whether you had a transponder you use on the Kansas Turnpike or we can take a picture of your license plate, you would not slow down. You would maintain speed, and we would send you a bill in the mail or you would be billed through your K-TAG account.”
The cost would also fluctuate depending on demand, Douglas said.
“The demand option is something that has been very, very successful in other areas, and we think that the way the data is showing might be a really good option for Overland Park,” Douglas said.
So if you’re late to pick up the kids from daycare and the two regular lanes are crowded during rush hour, just hop over to a third new lane — the express lane. You’ll be electronically charged approximately $1.75 to use that open lane.
The same rule applies when demand is low, but then the cost would drop to about 60 cents.
It’s very much a user fee, but when not every user has the same means, some ask: Is it fair?
“We think it really benefits everyone in the corridor, and we are continuing to evaluate and see if any additional steps are needed to really accommodate for that low-income population,” Douglas said.
When it comes to express toll lanes, Douglas wants everyone to remember one thing.
“I want everyone to know you can continue using U.S. 69 as you do today and never pay at all if you were adamantly opposed,” she said. “You don’t want to use that expressway, you can continue using 69 without any change to your budget.”
Construction on the $300 million project could begin next year and continue until 2025.
All the money collected would go toward the project. The state estimates the project could be paid off between 2035 and 2042, and then by law, the express toll lanes would go away.