Olathe Officials from a five-county region around the Kansas City metropolitan area agreed Tuesday that there are a lot higher priorities in their long-range transportation plan than building an "outer loop" highway on the southern and western fringes of Johnson County.
But at the strong urging of Johnson County officials, they agreed to leave the project on their wish list.
That was the consensus after the final meeting of a stakeholder planning group that has been meeting for about the last four years to develop a long-range plan for highways and corridors on the Kansas side of the metro area. The group met in Olathe to finalize its recommendations, which will be forwarded to Gov. Sam Brownback early next year.
During the last four years, the group has studied dozens of proposals for new roads and expanded corridors with an eye toward directing development in the region, relieving traffic congestion and promoting economic development.
But when officials from the Kansas Department of Transportation scored each of the proposals - factoring in such variables as cost, need for the project and potential economic benefit - most segments of the so-called Outer Loop proposal received the lowest rankings.
A preliminary report approved in August did not recommend the project be funded.
But the project gained new life in recent weeks when the Johnson County Commission sent a letter pleading for it to remain on the list of possible options. Brownback later endorsed the idea, saying it ought to remain a topic of serious discussion.
"The letter basically states that it should be considered as a suggested strategy," said Penny Potoak Ferguson, deputy county manager in Johnson County. "Our desire is not to have it taken off the list for future consideration."
While there are no specific diagrams for such a highway, proposals have called for a road that would run outside the Interstate 435 loop, from near the Tonganoxie interchange on Interstate 70 south to near Stilwell, and then west along the Johnson-Miami County line toward Missouri.
The full length of that single project is estimated to cost $2 billion.
Johnson County officials point to two future developments that could have a big impact on traffic and other development in that area - the new BNSF intermodal facility under construction near Stilwell, and the eventual redevelopment of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant south of DeSoto.
KDOT officials said even if the road were built, work probably would not begin for at least another 10 to 20 years, or even longer. Still, they said, it's important to have a clear idea of what projects are in the long-range plan because those plans affect the value of real estate along any proposed corridor and can influence future commercial or residential development.
Kise Randall of Sunflower Redevelopment, a partnership that currently owns the former ammunition plant property, said it also makes a difference what kind of road planners are intending. For example, a boulevard or parkway with stoplights and intersections draws a much different mix of development along the edges from a limited access highway or freeway.
Johnson County officials have said they would prefer a freeway-type road, but one that would use as much existing right of way as possible.
Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, however, said he still thinks the project should remain a low priority.
"This isn't a five-county recommendation; it's a Johnson County recommendation," he said. "It makes sense that they're advocating for a premium project in their county. But it doesn't rank high, compared to the other projects we've looked at."
KDOT deputy secretary Jerry Younger said the stakeholder group's recommendations will be finalized and condensed into a report in January. The projects included in the report will not be funded through the current multiyear transportation plan known as T-Works, but Younger said they will be used as the agency considers funding decisions for transportation projects.