The U.S. 69 Corridor Modernization and Expansion Project – also known as 69Express – is identifying the best solution for addressing long-term congestion on U.S. 69 between 179th and 103rd Streets in Overland Park.
The portion of U.S. 69 under study is between 179th and 103rd Streets in Overland Park, Kansas.
Studies and related projects over the last 25 years have identified safety and congestion issues along U.S. 69 that are projected to grow significantly. While COVID-19 temporarily reduced traffic volumes, U.S. 69 traffic volumes have steadily increased since 2020 and as of June, 2021, now exceed pre-pandemic levels. In fact, traffic volume is projected to increase so much that the time it takes today to travel between 179th and 103rd Streets would grow from about 15 minutes today to 90 minutes or more by 2050. This demand is driven by Overland Park, which is expected to grow to 236,000 people by 2036, a 23.2% increase over its 2018 population.
The Environmental Assessment (EA), traffic, safety and toll feasibility analyses began in October 2020, and a noise study began in summer 2021. The completed toll feasibility study supported implementation of express toll lanes on U.S. 69 Highway. The EA is expected to be complete by late 2021. If results from these analyses show community support and environmental clearance, then final design and construction on Phase 1 (adding a lane in each direction from 151st to 103rd Streets) will begin in 2022.
An Environmental Assessment established a Purpose and Need for the Project and then assessed potential solutions in terms of how well they fulfill the Purpose and Need. The EA initially identified five Purpose and Need criteria for evaluating potential solutions to the problems of U.S. 69 congestion and safety:
- Improve safety to address crash frequency and severity within the corridor;
- Reduce congestion and improve traffic operations to meet existing and future travel demands;
- Promote sustainability by addressing infrastructure condition and ongoing operations and maintenance needs, supporting environmental stewardship, as well as improving long‐term traveler reliability;
- Provide flexible choices by promoting a transportation system that accommodates the needs for all users and modes; and
- Accommodate local and regional growth through coordinated transportation improvements consistent with planned and proposed community land use.
The Project’s EA is evaluating impacts of various solutions on climate change, including how the Project will improve safety and congestion, increase transit options and minimize impacts to the natural and built environment.
The Overland Park City Council approved the widening of U.S. 69 with express toll lanes on June 21, 2021. The City of Overland Park, in consultation with KDOT, then proposed express toll lanes to the Kansas Turnpike Authority Board and the State Finance Council for their respective approvals. Those bodies voted in favor of the Project as presented. On July 8, KDOT announced that the Project will advance from KDOT’s development pipeline to construction. Once the EA is complete, construction for Phase 1 is set to begin in 2022.
In the first phase of the Project, express toll lanes will be from 103rd Street to 151st Street.
The EA examined six alternatives for addressing U.S. 69 safety and congestion issues:
- No-Build, used as a benchmark for comparison with build alternatives;
- Improvement to alternative routes;
- Existing capacity management through technologies (for example, ramp metering, queue warning systems and other traveler information) or demand management, including carpooling and staggering work shifts;
- Multimodal, primarily bus improvements such as increasing the frequency and number of transit routes, bus on shoulder and transit on demand; and improving bike and pedestrian facilities;
- Add Capacity – Traditional Widening; and
- Add Capacity – Express Toll Lanes.
Strategies such as expanded transit, interchange improvements and ramp metering are not sufficient to address problems in the corridor. They also cost more and take much longer to implement and provide improvement benefits. New capacity – in the form of added lanes – are needed to address current and future congestion.
After much study, the Project Team determined that express toll lanes are the best way to widen the highway in terms of cost and additional long-term safety, traffic flow and trip time reliability benefits. Based upon approvals in June 2021 by the Overland Park City Council, the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the State Finance Council, the plan is for U.S. 69 to be widened with one ETL in each direction and two free lanes in each direction, with final design and construction beginning by 2022.
An express toll lane is a lane available to any driver who chooses to pay a user fee (toll) to achieve more reliable travel time. The toll rate goes up as traffic increases (such as during rush hour or other peak traffic times) to keep the toll lane flowing smoothly and the toll-free, general-purpose lanes also flowing better. Tolls are collected automatically via electronic transponders or with license plate readers. The current price to enter the toll lane is communicated to drivers via signs so drivers choose for themselves whether they want to pay that price to drive in the free-flowing toll lane. Thus, the price of the toll varies with the amount of traffic in the corridor. By providing choices, express toll lanes reduce delays, manage congestion and keep travel times reliable for drivers.
Express Toll Lane Considerations
The Project team looked at how each Add Capacity alternative compared in terms of engineering and cost – that is, how easily each one can be designed, built and maintained. ETLs overall perform better from an engineering and cost standpoint. ETLs require a smaller footprint than traditional widening does. They have fewer right-of-way impacts and displace fewer homes and businesses than just adding lanes. As a result, they cost less to build and maintain.
Express toll lanes also do a better job of reducing congestion and improving travel time reliability. Express toll lanes enable drivers to choose if they want to pay a toll to drive in the free-flowing express toll lanes, which in turn helps reduce congestion in the toll-free, general-purpose lanes. ETLs also generate revenue that fund the local contribution the City of Overland Park must make to help accelerate the Project’s construction schedule.
High-Occupancy-Vehicle (HOV), lanes won’t significantly reduce congestion on U.S. 69. The highway has high single-occupancy traffic volume, and the traffic comes and goes from a diverse set of locations. Additionally, many jurisdictions have found that the cost of HOV enforcement – whether tolled or untolled – is so high in terms of detection equipment and law enforcement that it makes HOV lanes an impractical strategy. Around the country, many HOV lanes are being converted to HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes.
Express toll lanes offer a way for U.S. 69 users to generate revenues that will fund Overland Park’s local contribution. As the tolls are collected, that revenue over time will be used to offset initial construction investment of the new lanes for KDOT.
Local contributions are funds and other things of value that cities, counties and sometimes the private sector provide to advance important infrastructure projects. In the case of 69Express, the City of Overland Park’s local contribution for the $300 million first phase is $20 million, or 6.7% of the total cost.
The estimated total project cost for express toll lanes construction from 103rd Street to 179th Street is $655 million, which would be built in four phases. The first phase will construct a new, tolled lane in each direction from 103rd Street to 151st Street, estimated to cost $300 million.
The price will vary depending on time of day and congestion. During rush hour travel northbound in the morning, a one-way trip for the full length of the express toll lane would cost about $1.50, while that same trip during off-peak times would cost about $.65.
Yes. In a May 2021 survey of area residents, nearly 40% of the 1,257 respondents said they would use the express toll lanes all of the time, most of the time or some of the time to avoid congestion on U.S. 69. ETLs will provide a more reliable travel time. Traffic analyses show that the tolled lanes would have an average speed of 55 miles per hour (mph). Drivers will use the express toll lanes to bypass congestion, especially when a predictable travel time is critical, such as getting to an important meeting or picking up a child from day care.
The goal of the express toll lanes is to raise the City of Overland Park’s $20 million local contribution. Adjusted for inflation and included maintenance, it is estimated that the express toll lane tolls will generate the $20 million contribution between 2037 and 2042.
By statute, toll revenue raised by this Project must be spent on Project expenses. Toll revenue first will cover its own cost of collection (operations, maintenance and periodic replacement of the roadside toll system), and then will be used to reimburse KDOT for the City’s local contribution toward initial construction costs.
The Project has determined that the net revenue of the express toll lanes can fund the local contribution from the City of Overland Park. Tolls likely would be in place until sometime between 2037 and 2042 to cover the $20 million local contribution.
No. Tolls will generate revenue for Overland Park’s local contribution and are a tool used to manage traffic volumes in the tolled and free lanes.
No. State law mandates that any existing lane in Kansas remain untolled. Only new, additional lanes can be tolled – and only after a lengthy, detailed partnership process involving the community, KDOT, KTA and state elected officials.
This portion of U.S. 69 would follow standard guidance for express toll lane facilities. Signage and striping are used to make sure everyone understands the new lane is a toll lane. Portions of the roadway will be designated as express toll lane weave zones where cars can enter and exit the express toll lane. Ample space and signage will allow drivers time to enter and exit the express toll lane as needed. As described in the question above, these “lane switchers” would be violating state law: “Official traffic-control devices may be installed prohibiting the changing of lanes on sections of roadway, and drivers of vehicles shall obey the directions of every such device” or be subject to traffic violation citations. For U.S. 69, the pavement markings used to differentiate the express toll lanes from the free general-purpose lanes would be official traffic control devices, and moving out of the lane except in designated weave zones would be unlawful and subject to a violation fee.
No. Low-income drivers suffer from traffic congestion now – and would continue to do so for 10 years or more under options that don’t involve express toll lanes. With ETLs, congestion relief comes to them within about three years, even if they don’t use the tolled lanes. If they choose to use the ETLs occasionally when they would benefit most, the cost to them would be less than half of the cost of the increased tax burden that would have come with traditional widening. Additionally, KDOT will be working with low-income and other traditionally underserved communities to identify strategies to minimize impacts to them prior to the Project’s opening in 2025.
The express toll lanes solution will permit transit vehicles to use the express toll lanes at a reduced toll rate. This would allow individual transit riders to access a reliable trip at a low or no cost. KDOT anticipates that any hike/bike paths or sidewalks affected by project construction would be restored as part of the project. Additionally, connectivity across U.S. 69, which can be a barrier to pedestrians and cyclists, would be improved at the various cross streets that do not have sidewalks or hike/bike facilities. Bike lanes on the arterial streets that cross U.S. 69 would be evaluated using the City’s criteria.
The Environmental Assessment, which helps agencies, elected officials and the public make sound decisions for the Project and its surrounding area, will continue. It is expected to be complete in late 2021. The study will include an evaluation of the Project’s potential noise impact. If environmental concerns are found in the study area, additional assessment will be required to determine how to mitigate the issues. If there are no major environmental impacts associated with the Project, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), expected to occur in 2022.
KDOT also will begin work with low-income and other traditionally underserved communities to seek their engagement on strategies that will minimize Project impacts to them.
As the Environmental Assessment continues through 2021, KDOT concurrently will work on right-of-way, utilities and permitting for the Project. KDOT also will hold informational meetings for prospective design-build teams and begin the selection process for the contractors and subcontractors that will build the Project. Construction on the U.S. 69 Expansion Project’s first phase between 151st and 103rd Streets could begin as early as the summer of 2022, with completion expected in 2025.
The Project team will evaluate potential noise impacts as part of the Environmental Assessment and determine whether noise control measures are warranted and can be feasibly and reasonably built under federal and state policies. To improve uniformity on the projects, KDOT will use the same version of the noise policy that was used on the previous I-435 and U.S. 69 projects – along with updated traffic volumes and design information for U.S. 69’s current and projected conditions.
KDOT first will review the study results, including recommendations for noise abatement such as sound walls, with the Overland Park City Council. Results will be presented to the public at a Dec. 8 virtual meeting. For those locations where noise walls are recommended for inclusion in the Project, KDOT will meet with property owners to determine whether or not they want noise walls.
Tolls will be collected electronically using K-TAGs (and other compatible transponder devices) or license plates. Cameras will capture license plate images for vehicles using the express toll lanes. For a customer who does not have a K-TAG, the vehicle’s registered owner will receive an invoice in the mail for the toll incurred by the vehicle.
K-TAGs will be the most cost-effective way to pay tolls on U.S. 69. A K-TAG is a small device (like a sticker) that adheres to the inside of vehicle’s windshield. For customers who already have K-TAG accounts, trips taken in the U.S. 69 express toll lanes will appear on their K-TAG monthly statements. Customers who do not have K-TAGs can sign up at myktag.com. The windshield stickers are free and can be mailed directly to the user. Tolls accrued on a K-TAG will be charged to a customer’s bank account or credit/debit card each month. Users also may choose a pre-paid option, available at select Kansas retailers or online at www.BancPass.com.
Equipment used in the toll lanes is focused on those lanes and generally does not capture pictures of anything outside that “region of interest.” The Kansas Turnpike Authority, which will handle toll collection, does not share private information with any third party, except when requested by the customer to help resolve concerns.
There are two types of enforcement to consider: 1) refusing to pay tolls levied for use of the express toll lanes and 2) improper use of the lanes on the roadway. Refusing to pay tolls will follow the same administrative process as is done on the Kansas Turnpike. This can include referral to a collection agent or placement of a registration hold on the vehicle until the tolls are paid. Customers are given multiple opportunities to pay the tolls before escalating to those steps. Law enforcement will monitor use of the roadway and enforce its proper use. For example, not using the designated entry and exit points and crossing through the buffer area would be ticketed as a moving violation similar to exceeding the speed limit.
KDOT has contracted with a firm to strengthen trash pickup along the corridor, in addition to what already is done by KDOT crews.
The best way to learn about Project progress and make your voice heard is by attending the virtual or hybrid public meetings that will take place. One will be held in October when the environmental analysis is complete; one in February 2022 about right-of-way acquisitions; and one prior to the start of construction. Groups also may request project presentations through the U.S. 69 Expansion project website at Feedback – 69 Express. Other ways to stay involved include visiting the Project website periodically at 69Express.org and its Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor pages. The Project’s website and social media pages enable the public to leave comments for members of the Project team to respond to. People also can sign up for Project updates and newsletters.