Local officials were elated by last summer’s announcement that the Kansas Department of Transportation had committed $192 million for the completion of the SLT. However, the idea that KDOT might fund part of the trafficway construction costs by charging a toll on the road got a less enthusiastic response.
KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said her department would study the toll issue with the goal of charging motorists who use the road to bypass Lawrence while allowing local traffic to use the road for free. That’s a good goal, but it will be next to impossible to achieve.
KDOT is looking at a couple of toll scenarios. One is to have toll booths at both ends of the completed SLT — Noria Road and the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. People would be charged a toll when they get on the road and a toll when they get off. If they exit the SLT anywhere in the middle, they would pay just one toll. Another idea is to have a toll booth just at the Lecompton interchange. That would mean motorists traveling west would pay the full toll regardless of how far they had traveled on the SLT, while motorists traveling east could access the road anywhere except the turnpike interchange and drive almost the entire route for free.
This is of particular concern to people who use the SLT primarily to access the Lecompton interchange, often from nearby U.S. 40/Sixth Street. Charging those people a toll would be akin to setting up a toll booth just north of Second Street and McDonald Drive and collecting a toll for those trying to access the West Lawrence turnpike interchange. It’s also of concern to people in Lecompton and other points north and west of Lawrence who use the SLT to access the Farmers Turnpike.
The tolls KDOT envisions — less than $1 — aren’t large but they can add up for regular users. There’s also the question of how much it will cost KDOT to build and operate one or more toll booths to collect those fees and how much that cost would eat into toll revenue.
KDOT officials have said toll money likely would be used to fund construction of an SLT interchange at Bob Billings Parkway. Delaying that interchange would be an acceptable trade-off for maintaining free access to the SLT. If that interchange is, indeed, the primary reason KDOT is considering tolls, the most fair way to collect that money would be to build the interchange and then collect tolls from people who get on and off the SLT at that point.
KDOT has hired an Olathe firm to conduct phone surveys to measure how high a toll residents in Douglas, Johnson and Shawnee counties would be willing to pay to use the SLT. It also will be an indication of how many drivers would use other routes that increase traffic in Lawrence rather than paying a toll to use the SLT. The survey and other communications from local officials and residents likely will be a key component in KDOT’s decision on tolling.
Completing the SLT will be a big benefit for Lawrence residents, but it also is a key piece of the state’s transportation strategy for the busy traffic corridor between Topeka and Kansas City because it will give motorists easier access to the Kansas Turnpike to the west, U.S. 59 to the south and K-10 to the east of Lawrence. Lawrence drivers will use the SLT, but they shouldn’t bear a disproportionate share of funding the road as they almost certainly would if tolls are implemented.