Reluctantly, Shirley Bruce VanArsdale will move forward with plans to expand Bruce’s Funeral Home and add more parking.
“I’m going to expand and hope you don’t eat us in another 15 years,” she told city and state officials while voicing her concerns about a U.S. 56 Highway and Center Street expansion. The funeral home sits on the southwest corner of the intersection and current plans will eat into her property eliminating a garage entrance to her property.
VanArsdale was among several business owners and citizens voicing their concerns about the project on March 8.
Kansas Department of Transportation officials told the crowd of about 20 people that the plans will add capacity to the intersection. According to their analysis, the existing intersection handles about 9,000 cars each day – 200 of which are trucks. By 2040, they anticipate the intersection will see approximately 30,000 vehicles per day including 1,200 trucks.
Karen Rumble, a vice president at Patriot’s Bank on the northeast corner of the intersection, said a lot of the traffic that passes through downtown now and that will in the future isn’t traffic that stops at local businesses.
Sen. Rob Olsen, who represents Gardner, Edgerton and part of Olathe in the state legislature, agreed.
“You guys are going to have a lot of pass through traffic,” Olsen said. “You’re going to increase your traffic flow and it’s going to kill your downtown.”
Rumble said adding an additional lane will make it more difficult for drivers to access the banks, including Patriot’s Bank and Metcalf Bank on the southeast corner.
“Businesses will suffer,” she said.
Rex Cummins who used to own Ace Hardware in town said construction on Moonlight Road a few years ago limited access to his store.
“The construction ran me out of business,” he said.
Rumble said other cities create separate thoroughfares for truck traffic to protect retail.
“They divert traffic for trucks. It can be done. I hate to see the downtown turn into Noland Road,” she said referencing a busy street in Independence, Mo.
Resident Bob Page agreed.
“The better you make that intersection, the more trucks you’re going to have,” he said.
However, David Greene, city public works director, said the point of the project is to make the intersection safer for drivers and pedestrians.
There have been 30 accidents at the intersection in the last three years. None were fatal. Of those, only seven were left-turn related. Eleven were rear-endings. They also couldn’t anticipate specific lower accident numbers once the intersection expansion is complete.
“Based on a lot of research, we’re going to reduce the severity of the accidents,” Greene said.
Several residents and business owners said lowering the speed limit through town might also lessen the severity of accidents at the intersection as well as offer additional benefits.
Rumble said with a lower speed limit, some drivers who go through town without stopping, may decide to stay on the highway and bypass downtown.
Kipp Willnauer, a homeowner just west of the funeral home, said the plans need to take homeowners into consideration as well as business owners. Although he’s made improvements, he said high speed traffic wreaks havoc on his home.
“We all shake and rattle. We’re all falling apart,” he said.
The project will move the road closer to Willnauer’s Main Street home, and the snow plows will be that much closer as well.
“The snow last April, they pushed snow 10 to 15 feet up to my windows on my home. You’re coming 15-feet closer to my 25-foot front,” he said.
Steve Devore, president of the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce, said the existing parallel parking in front of Main Street businesses probably isn’t ideal.
“I think we need to identify what we want our downtown to be,” Devore said. “Then as a community we have to address it.”
Buying out businesses along Main Street for future expansions isn’t an option, according to Greene, however.
“That’s not going to happen,” Greene said. “If we have to buy people out, we’re not going to do the project.”
30 Accidents between 2008-2011
Rear End – 11
Failure to yield left turn - 7
Overtaking sideswipe - 6
Bike/vehicle – 3
Running Red Light – 2
Failure to yield right turn – 1
Source: city of Gardner