Lynne Hermansen
Special To The Gardner News
The Kansas Department of Transportation and Tim McEldowney, Gardner city engineer, presented the I-35 and Gardner Road Interchange project at the March 1 council meeting.
The six million dollar project will replace the existing Gardner Road bridge over I-35 and is scheduled to be completed September 2023.
KDOT’s presentation shared a summary of the design process and updated council members on the remaining project schedule and estimated costs.
McEldowney said the Gardner Road Bridge is currently two lanes with no shoulders and no turn lanes on ramps and Gardner Road, and KDOT’s plans are to change it into a divergent interchange.
Steve Bass, KDOT project manager, and Simon Sun, HDR project and lead design manager, led the presentation.
“We feel major repairs on bridge repair are needed with its current condition,” Bass said.
Bass said the traffic analysis confirmed the congestion problem at the intersection, and they believe the divergent diamond interchange is the best solution.
“The bridge needs major rehab or replacement,” he said. “There is lots of development out there and still coming, and we want to preserve the right of way.”
Sun, lead design, said it was important to tie in the interchange project with the Quick Trip street project and traffic was increasing on I-35.
He said the priority was accommodating future expansion while minimizing the increasing construction traffic impact.
“We need wiggle room in alignment of the bridge and new construction to existing so traffic is maintained,” he said.
Sun said they hoped to help with long-term congestion relief while accommodating pedestrians.
“We are hoping to plan forward the ultimate vision of the area,” he said.
Bass said the total cost of the ultimate project had changed from $31.3 million to 40.3 million in cost.
The city is responsible for the utility and right of way costs, and KDOT will fund the remaining 4.5 million construction cost.
KDOT said they plan to use the preliminary interchange design to acquire the right-of-way for the future construction of the interchange project.
Council members said they were concerned about the increasing intermodal logistics park traffic creating more traffic flow onto Gardner road and damaging the bridge.
“I don’t know if anyone looked at the condition of the bridge,” Shute said. “It has serious degradation in the last two years and has been accelerated.”
Michael Rhinehart, KDOT engineer, said they were well aware of its condition and several bridges in Kansas were in the same situation.
Rhinehart said they were looking at starting repairs this summer.
Shute said he understood the issue and appreciated their work, but was still concerned about safety and increased traffic.
Gregoryck said a high percentage of the traffic was coming and going from the LPKC park.
“If we could throttle it and push the traffic further South to an intersection further South to allow extra construction project time,” he said.
Steve Bass, KDOT project manager, said the problem was truck drivers were using the shortest GPS route, and their GPS was leading them to exit off of I-35 onto Gardner Road.
Shute said it would be immense help to tell trucks and put up signs to exit at 205 for the intermodal. He said the interchange South of Gardner road was directly created for the intermodal truck traffic.
Gregoryck said he was concerned about the long standing Gardner Phillips 66 gas station. “We need to make sure the Gardner Road access is still there on the Eastside of Gardner road,” he said.
Bass said they are considering entrances close to the interchange and Gardner Road.
Sun said they were looking at a raised median for that area.
Gregoryck said he was still concerned with closing off the Phillips 66 Gas Station’s current west side Locust street entrance. “I empathize with the concern and safety” he said. “It’s hard to swallow improvement being timely and needed when you’re going to close off the entrance of a main road to enter for fuel, gas and snacks.”
Tory Roberts, council member, said she agreed with Gregoryck and was also concerned about the blocking of the Phillips 66 gas station driveway.
The Phillips 66 gas station and car wash owners said they were shocked the access to their business was being closed, and they had had negotiations and an agreement in writing with attorneys to keep it open.
A co-owner said they couldn’t accept the closing, and that if the city was concerned about truck traffic they shouldn’t open a Quick Trip trucking gas station and cut-off the Phillips 66 gas station accessibility.
Ryan Denk, attorney, said the owners were correct and there had been extensive discussions.
The Phillips 66 gas station owners said they were shocked and amazed at what the city is doing by closing their main access.
Shute said they would have to come up with a solution for traffic flow and preserve businesses.
McEldowney said the question was always the second phase to work with KDOT and the goal was to maintain with the first phase.
Shute said there was a written agreement, so they must keep the gas station open and accessible. “The agreement says we must preserve,” he said.
Shute said per the ultimate design from KDOT the space looked tight.
Roberts said she was more concerned the city already had a signed agreement that can’t be changed.