With the 69 Express Toll Lane project well underway and about ninety thousand cars using the U.S. 69 Highway between 103rd Street West to 151st Street West, there’s a bottleneck.
“I often drive on Alternate 69, and although I appreciate the improvements, it hasn’t made navigating the area any less frustrating,” says frequent commuter Tim Fitzsimmons. “What is also concerning is whether anyone will be willing to pay for the use of those toll lanes.”
Much to the chagrin of many local residents, construction of the highly anticipated and hotly debated project began almost four months ago. Although most agree the highway is inadequate for the number of travelers and in need of repair, many aren’t sure creating a toll road is the answer. Just days before the start of construction, opponents unsuccessfully tried to stall construction when learning that an ancient tree would be sacrificed for the sake of expansion.
The Kansas Department of Transportation identifies Alternate 69 from 103rd Street West to 151st Street West as the busiest four-lane highway in all of Kansas. Carrying more than ninety thousand cars a day, it’s a dangerous stretch.
According to KDOT, crash reports on this highway stretch are fifty-three percent higher than the statewide average. Existing pavement and bridges are more than fifty years old and are overdue for repair and replacement. Additionally, congestion is steadily increasing, with an expectation that traffic will triple by the year 2040.
The Express Toll Lane project is expected to take nearly three years to complete and will eventually mean one additional express toll lane in both directions. The other two lanes will remain free. The expansion increases the highway from four lanes to six, with three lanes in either direction. The expansion will provide improvements in long-term safety, travel flow and time reliability, according to KDOT.
Currently the overnight lane closures are impacting the entrance and exit ramps, causing most of the traffic. The lane closures are expected to continue nightly through the fall of 2023.
“As someone who lives a few blocks from the Alt 69, I do feel like so far, they’ve done a great job of keeping inconvenience to a minimum by doing most of the closure work at night,” says Angela Crawford of Overland Park.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $650 million, which is $140 million more than first expected when discussion of the project began in 2020. This is due in part to the increasing cost of construction, according to the KDOT.
Motorists will eventually pay between 30 cents and $1.40 to use the express lane, which could generate as much as $20 million in revenue each year. Authorities are hoping that revenue will help pay for the project and maintenance.
Also included in the project is the building of the 167th Street and U.S. 69 interchange, the construction of eleven noise barriers around residential areas and the reconstruction of pavement along the route from 103rd Street to 151st Street.
The express lanes are planned to be open by late 2025. The entire project is estimated to be done in 2026.