PITTSBURG, Kan. — Over the last few months, Highway 69 just north of Pittsburg has been taken over by orange cones and construction zone signs as the next leg of the long-anticipated expansion of Highway 69 finally got underway. But it looks like the orange cones will be traveling north after Overland Park City Council approved the construction of express toll lanes between 103rd street and 173rd street in the Johnson County city.
In a 10-2 vote, the council approved building express toll lanes on each side of the highway, with the hope that the lanes will help with the major congestion problem the section of the highway has during rush hour.
According to 69Express, a website created by the Kansas Department of Transportation, Kansas Turnpike Authority and the City of Overland Park detailing the expansion of the section of Highway 69, instead of opting for simply expanding the road with extra lanes with no tolls, building the express toll lanes — which could charge between a $.50 and $1.75 per trip — allows Overland Park financial relief for the project.
“Kansas has many serious transportation needs that must be addressed, and state funding is limited,” the website about the project says. “State dollars will be the primary source of funding to improve U.S. 69, but local contributions help advance important projects more quickly and help ensure that such projects more fully meet local transportation needs.
“Express toll lanes offer a funding solution for Overland Park’s local contribution. As the tolls are collected, that revenue would reimburse KDOT for the initial construction investment of the new lanes over the next 20 or 30 years.”
According to the Shawnee Mission Post, the plan now needs to be approved by the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the State Finance Council, which includes leaders from the state legislature and the governor.
If approved by the two entities, work on constructing the toll lanes could begin as early as next year.
According to the Post, expansion of Highway 69 is one of KDOT’s top priorities, as the organization has often said it is the busiest four-lane highway in the state, but highway expansion projects can be hard to get off the ground as dwindling state funds have made it more difficult to back large projects. However, as funding has dried up “KDOT has pitched cost-sharing partnerships like the express toll lanes plan proposed for U.S. 69 as a way to expedite long-delayed highway projects.”
With that in mind, that begs the question of whether toll lanes have been considered for the Crawford County portion of the highway expansion project currently underway. KDOT spokesperson Priscilla Petersen said they were not.
“As you know, two U.S. 69 expansion projects are currently under construction in Crawford County,” Petersen said. “Adding a toll lane to those two sections was not considered or proposed during the planning process, to my knowledge.”
Blake Benson, Highway 69 Association representative and President of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce said toll roads have never come up in conversation when discussing the southeast Kansas expansion of the highway, adding that he applauded the efforts of Overland Park and KDOT and thought adding the tolls was a good marker of growth.
“I think it’s a sign of continued growth on one of the state’s primary north-south corridors,” Benson said. “I think KDOT is doing a very good job at working with local communities to come up with solutions that work for that particular area.
“We’re in conversations with them [KDOT] about how to progress the southern end of the 69 Highway corridor and I really applaud them and Overland Park officials for coming to this agreement.”
Asked his thoughts on the Overland Park toll, Pittsburg City Manager Daron Hall said it didn’t affect the Pittsburg area.
Jordan Meier is a reporter for the Morning Sun. She can be reached a email@example.com.