K-10 Highway expected to grow to six lanes, but project would stop before reaching Douglas County

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Traffic travels westward on Kansas Highway 10 near the Douglas-Johnson County line on April 19, 2024.

It is a good bet that Kansas Highway 10 will be expanded to six lanes in the next five years. But based on the current planning in the Kansas Department of Transportation, it is a lousy bet to think any of that expansion will cross into Douglas County.

Panasonic’s 4,000-job, $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto — scheduled to open in early 2025 — is a key driver behind expansion plans. The plant is a less than 10-minute drive from the Douglas County line and parts of Eudora, which has caused leaders in that community of about 6,000 people to begin preparing for significant growth.

KDOT’s leaders, though, aren’t seeing the same type of needs when it comes to the main highway that serves the area. A KDOT study to determine future improvements needed to K-10 didn’t include any parts of Douglas County. The study area stopped at the Douglas-Johnson county line, and the recommendation to expand K-10 to six lanes — up from four today — stops even farther away.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A Kansas Highway 10 sign is shown at the Church Street interchange in Eudora on April 19, 2024.

The current plan is for the six-lane segment of the road to stretch from the I-435 gateway intersection in eastern Johnson County to the Lexington Avenue intersection in De Soto. The section of K-10 between Lawrence and De Soto will remain unchanged at four-lanes.

Steven Cross, KDOT’s project manager for the expansion, told me at a recent public open house for the project that some simple numbers are behind that decision. Employee projections for the Panasonic plant show far more employees coming from east of De Soto than from west of De Soto.

“It is a pretty definite split,” Cross said of the east versus west job numbers.

“Definite,” though, has not been a word used much with the Panasonic project. Communities from Olathe to Lawrence, and many in between, have been making educated guesses about how the largest industrial project in the state’s history will will impact their communities’ growth rates, infrastructure, traffic patterns and more.

Eudora Mayor Tim Reazin said information he’s heard from Panasonic officials indicate the impact on communities west of the plant will be significant. He said the analogy Panasonic officials have been using is the plant will be like a pebble falling in a pond. The investment and jobs will produce ripples that expand in a circle around the plant, in this case likely drawing workers from up to an hour away.

“But KDOT thinks the ripples are going to stop at the county line,” Reazin said.

Reazin is not convinced of that theory. While the population numbers east of the Panasonic plant are indeed greater than they are west of the plant, that doesn’t rule out the likelihood of a significant number of people wanting to locate in a town like Eudora, which has ample room for housing growth and would put workers just a few minutes from their employers.

photo by: Google Maps/Journal-World

The red stars show the locations of Eudora’s two K-10 interchanges. The blue start shows the location of the Panasonic battery plant. The orange star shows the location of the Evening Star Road interchange, where millions of square feet of warehouse space is being constructed. The gray star roughly shows where the six-lane portion of K-10 Highway would begin for motorists heading eastward. The purple line shows a portion of W. 103rd street that is being widened and improved currently. Eudora officials had hoped the road would be improved to city’s eastern interchange.

Plus, he said he knows the current section of K-10 that runs through and near Eudora already has problems that will grow as the traffic volumes increase.

“I already feel K-10 is pretty dangerous because of the speed and inattentive driving,” he said

Reazin’s concerns extend beyond K-10. He said he unsuccessfully lobbied for an existing road construction project that is underway on West 103rd Street in rural Johnson County to be extended into Douglas County. That street is actually old K-10 Highway, and it travels directly in front of the Panasonic plant and then westward. State funds are being used to make major improvements to that rural roadway.

The old highway does not stop at the Johnson County line, but rather becomes N 1400 Road in Douglas County. It runs into the city of Eudora. Reazin had lobbied for the road improvements to stretch all the way to Eudora’s eastern K-10 interchange. The thinking was that would provide an improved path directly to the Panasonic site for residents who live in Eudora. But road planners did not see it that way. Improvements on West 103rd Street will stop at the Evening Star Road interchange, which is the first K-10 interchange east of the Douglas-Johnson county line.

By stopping the project before it reaches Douglas County, it creates some risks if Eudora indeed does become home to a sizable number of Panasonic employees. (Or Panasonic-related employees, as suppliers of the plant are expected to produce several thousand additional jobs.) The risk is that those residents will travel in large numbers along the narrow, rural road — N 1400 Road — or they will create congestion at Eudora’s two interchanges on K-10.

Eudora’s western interchange — the Church Street interchange — already faces congestion at peak times. Neither of the Eudora interchanges have traffic signals or dedicated turn lanes. Reazin said even improvements like those would be beneficial to Eudora as it prepares for Panasonic.

KDOT has agreed to add a pedestrian crossing at the Church Street bridge over K-10. Reazin said that work should be completed by the end of 2025. But whether KDOT will be open to making other vehicle-related improvements at the interchange is an open question.

“I was hoping it would happen organically,” Reazin said.

But since the major K-10 study doesn’t look at any locations in Douglas County, don’t expect that project to provide any help on Eudora projects.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Motorists on Kansas Highway 10 pass a sign advertising future commercial development near the Lexington Avenue interchange in De Soto on April 19, 2024.

But KDOT is planning a lot of work in Johnson County. Here’s a look at some of the current proposals, as shared in recent public meetings in Johnson County.

• KDOT is considering adding a third and fourth lane to the highway by building two new lanes where the grass median currently exists on the highway. That means beginning in De Soto and running all the way to the I-435 gateway intersection, K-10 would have a middle concrete barrier rather than a grass median.

• The entire list of K-10 improvements that KDOT is likely to recommend would cost $1.16 billion. The project is not currently funded by the state, meaning the Legislature would likely need to add money to a future budget. Thus far, the Legislature has been fairly accommodating on budget requests designed to support the Panasonic project.

• KDOT has not yet finalized its recommendations. Instead, the project currently is going through the environmental review phase. KDOT is expected to make its formal recommendations later this summer. However, all the materials presented at recent public meetings have shown the widening project. KDOT is considering other alternatives — like multimodal and mass transit — but KDOT has said the alternatives by themselves “don’t meet the purpose and need” of the project, which is to relieve congestion and improve safety. But the alternatives might be useful in conjunction with the widening of the highway, KDOT has said.

• The project also proposes to redesign several interchanges along the way. The closest to Lawrence would be the Evening Star Road interchange, which currently is very rural in nature, but is in the process of having millions of square feet of warehouse and distribution space constructed to serve suppliers of Panasonic.

• It likely would be 2028 before any widening on the road began. Designing the project is a multiyear effort, plus the project will have to win regulatory approval from the Federal Highway Administration. (People may recall that approval took a moment for the South Lawrence Trafficway.) KDOT hopes to have the federal approvals by the end of 2024. Once design is completed, the project likely would be constructed in phases, with the portion of K-10 closest to the I-435 interchange probably happening ahead of the De Soto work.

In other words, commuters might be in for many years of roadwork on K-10.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A large warehouse under construction near the Evening Star Road interchange along Kansas Highway 10 is shown on April 19, 2024.


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