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South Johnson County Road-Building Binge Would Overwhelm Blue River Watershed, Residents Say
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It played out as the classic planning chicken or egg stew.

Shall roads be built to accommodate expected growth? Or will building the roads spur unwanted sprawl?

Scratching out the answer formed the broth of a debate at a public hearing held by the Johnson County Commission Thursday, Oct. 15.

The commission is looking at a proposal by county planning and public works officials to extend and upgrade two rural roads in southeastern Johnson County that would connect the dots in the patchy road network in what they say will likely be the next area of strong growth.

They point to recent annexations by Overland Park near the area and developers’ plans to build new sewer networks in the area, which will boost residential development. The county must plan to accommodate the extra traffic and development because of that growth, said Dean Palos, county planning director.

“The county isn’t changing this area,” said Norm Bauer, testifying as a private citizen but who is the retired county engineer. “It’s the people who are moving to the Stilwell area who are changing the area.”

The county must plan to accommodate the extra traffic and development because of that growth, he said.

Opponents in the Stilwell area are crying foul. They see the proposal as the latest in a series of attempts to build a heavy-duty east-west artery that would have the effect of linking a proposed intermodal center at Gardner with a Missouri intermodal center south of Kansas City -- and which they say would turn one of the least-developed environmentally-sensitive areas of Johnson County into a noisy, smog-ridden raceway for trucks.

“This is going to be another South Metro,” Robert Moulton said. “We’re seeing a lot of these plans that are going to be east-west roads that aren’t needed.”

The proposal puts the county in the position of easily connecting roads in the area to State Line Road and to U.S. 71 in Missouri, said Tom Linsin, Stilwell.

“The need for an east-west link has not been truly demonstrated,” he said.

A five-county study of the Kansas City metro area in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Transportation projects a need for some sort of east-west connector south of Kansas City, Palos said.

“One of the concerns is the Burlington Northern Santa Fe facility at Gardner and its impact,” he said.

Stilwell area residents, working through such groups as the South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC), waylaid two previous proposals for east-west arteries in southeast Johnson County -- the 21st Century Parkway and the South Metro Connection.

A little more than a year ago, when the commission backed away from the South Metro, commissioners offered a couple of changes to the County Arterial Road Network Plan – CARNP, Palos said. One removed language concerning any future arterial corridors from CARNP but would designate 179th Street between Metcalf and Nall avenues as a Type 1 road, he said. In CARNP lingo, a Type 1 road is a two-lane road in certain rural areas in the county. To the west of Metcalf, 179th is designated as a Type 3 road, a heavy-duty, four-lane artery between Metcalf and Quivira Road where it jogs to merge with 175th Street.

County planning and public works staffs added a couple of more controversial recommendations: Extend 183rd Street between Nall Avenue and Mission Road; and extend Nall Avenue between 167th and 175th streets.

After a lengthy hearing in July -- a hearing so heavily attended that it was moved to a larger room in the Courthouse basement--the county planning commission agreed to recommend the proposals for 179th and 183rd streets. However, the planners voted not to recommend the proposal to extend Nall. Those planners who voted against the Nall proposal cited the cost and complexity of crossing the Blue River and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline.

The proposed extensions would run through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the county, Victor Martin, Stilwell, said at Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s one of the most pristine and one of the most natural areas in Johnson County,” Martin said.

He scoffed at one county contention that the new connectors are needed to improve access to a new county park in the area.

A written statement by SMOC says that the proposal would adversely affect the Baum Nature Conservancy, the historic Camp Ernst Boy Scout camp and the Blue River watershed.

Some of the speakers said they own much of the land in the area and they said they intend to maintain the wilderness nature and that they won’t sell to developers.

Speakers referred to the scenic nature of Mission Road in southern Johnson County and its popularity with hikers and bicyclists.
Mac Andrew, county engineer, said although Mission Road is lauded for it scenic rusticity, it poses a hazard to traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists and there are frequent accidents involving animals. As traffic increases with development, the accidents will increase, he said.

And if the proposal is rejected, it would assure that Mission Road would have to be upgraded and improved to handle the demands of increased traffic, he said.
Although the audience was smaller than the planning commission public hearing in July, approximately 75 people filled the commission chamber.
County commissioners said little during the hearing.
Palos told Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh that it would take two to three weeks to collect the written and oral testimony and prepare a transcript of Thursday’s hearing.
Surbaugh promised the audience that they would be notified whenever the commission takes up the matter again.

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Added: November 23, 2009. 04:06 PM CDT
Another reason to move farther south. Tired of the money talking... Leave the watershed alone!
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