OLATHE, Kan. — Olathe residents packed City Hall Thursday night, upset about a City of Olathe plan to accept $18 million in federal grant money.
The money would partially fund a bridge to connect 119th Street over the railroad between Woodland and Northgate.
To get that money the Federal Railroad Administration says a nearby crossing has to close, which was never in the plans already approved by the city last year.
Residents living on Woodland say they attended years of meetings- in wholehearted support – prior to last year’s approval of a $42 million 119th Street East West extension.
City officials were overjoyed in June when the Federal Railroad Administration awarded the city an $18 million grant as part of its program to eliminate at grade crossings.
“We weren’t terribly optimistic that we’d be getting 18 million dollars for the project,” Tim Danneberg, Olathe external affairs director, said explaining why the potential closure of the crossing where 4500 cars head North South and 88 trains pass by daily.
“I was watching your broadcast on June 5 and I couldn’t believe what was I hearing,” neighbor Greg Betzen said.
What’s really important to me is they did not tell us they they were even thinking about this,” neighbor Deb Wallace added.
“It’s the safety and traffic issues that are the biggest concerns, one is an annoyance these are serious,” Betzen countered. “We are going to have 140 houses that are going to have one way in and out once that railroad crossing is closed something happens up there we are stuck.”
More than 100 people expressed similar concerns to the city at a meeting Thursday requested by the neighborhood South of 119th Street off Woodland.
Engineers told them the path over the new bridge will only be about two minutes out of the way if they want to head South toward downtown Olathe and they’ll never have to worry about getting stuck by a train.
“It’s a major crossing North South and if its closed I may have to consider taking some of my purchases in Lenexa instead of Olathe,” Wallace said.
Officials say closure of the Woodland crossing is non-negotiable under the grant. Some said because of the stipulation the city should consider turning down the money. But a City spokesperson said because of inflation the previously approved $42 million project now stands at $55 million.
Tough decisions on projects like a planned fire station in the 119th Street area might have to be made without it.
“After all its $18 million. That’s a very big chunk of money that otherwise would be paid for by our taxpayers,” Danneberg said.
City Council still needs to approve accepting that grant money. Officials told residents Thursday that may not be for about six months or a year.
Construction on the 119th Street Extension planned to start this fall has been pushed back while they wait to meet with the FRA about the grant.