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Friday, Apr. 12, 2013

Lenexa plans for long construction headache at I-35 and 95th

Special to The Star

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Motorists who frequent the shopping areas around Interstate 35 and 95th Street in Lenexa have about a year left to enjoy the traffic flow as it is. Then, as construction season starts in 2014, the madness will begin.

Work at two major I-35 interchanges — 95th Street and Interstate 435 a bit further south — will affect every aspect of life in the area, from truck delivery routes to shopping at Oak Park Mall to fire and ambulance service in the part of Lenexa east of I-35.

The disruptions will affect not only the interchanges themselves, but the frontage roads, the I-35 overpass over Pflumm Road and access from Renner Boulevard and Ridgeview Road. Plans are still being drawn up, but the 95th Street interchange is slated to be closed for about six months and all the work isn’t expected to be finished until 2017.

The Lenexa City Council grappled Tuesday with the implications for businesses and emergency crews as members considered options for what parts of 95th Street should be closed during construction.

Ultimately, the council decided to close the entire interchange, including ramps, because the work could be done more quickly that way. They also will ask crews not to close adjacent intersections and to keep the 95th Street interchange open from November through the Christmas shopping season.

“This is going to give us a lot of heartache until the day the thing is done,” said council member Diane Linver.

The council considered three options for the $12 million 95th Street project. Two would have partially closed the interchange but would have taken as long as 300 days for some sections to be completed. The one the council went with closes the whole interchange plus ramps at once but is cheaper and would speed construction to 180 days.

“The most important thing is the businesses — what’s going to make the least impact on them,” said Councilman Lou Serrone. “We need to keep everything as accessible as possible so we can keep generating sales tax dollars and people don’t lose their jobs because they can’t get there.”

Council members said they’d heard from affected businesses that preferred the shorter construction option that was approved. Councilman Tom Nolte was the only dissenter. He favored an option that would have kept one lane open in each direction on 95th Street for the duration. “We should just make sure there’s some sort of lifeblood pumping through that vein,” Nolte said. “I’d rather have some than none.”

No matter how it’s done, the construction will present a challenge to emergency crews, said Lenexa Fire Chief Dan Rhodus. About a fourth of his department’s calls come from the slice of Lenexa that is just east of I-35, he said. Construction of any kind could slow response times because emergency crews will avoid that intersection, he said.

The 95th Street interchange will have an unusual “diverging diamond” pattern, with traffic flowing in a criss-cross pattern across the interstate. The pattern is intended to streamline turning traffic and improve safety.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Transportation is considering whether the 95th Street interchange should become a part of its Gateway Project, a redo of the I-35/I-435/K10 intersection. That area is expected to become busier as the new Intermodal rail center near Gardner gets up and running.

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