Surviving the metro’s turbulent roads.
If you think there are a lot more cars on the road – you’re right. The Kansas City metro is growing. Currently, 2.3 million people call this area home. In the last seven years, the number of people living in and around K.C. has increased by almost 100,000. To put that in focus, the population jump is akin to all the folks in Miami Beach, Florida packing up their beach towels and sunscreen and moving to the metro. We’re also growing twice as fast as St. Louis.
With this growth comes additional stress on the metro’s infrastructure – especially roads. All this helps explain why you’re driving on some stretches of pavement that are making your car shake, rattle and roll. As for traffic, well settle in, because it is taking you longer to get to work. Blame it on the trifecta of increased population, road conditions and distracted drivers. The bad news is it’s not going to get better anytime soon. The good news – the future of driving looks hands-free.
KC traffic isn’t that horrible. According to TomTom, a respected traffic index, KC ranks among America’s least congested cities. (Some locals dispute that data saying it was based solely on the number of freeway miles per capita of the city and not on any hard information related to rush hour waits and congestion.) The driving app INRIX found the average Kansas City driver spends 18 hours a year in traffic– no time at all (until you’re sitting in it) compared to the four days Los Angeles drivers suffer.
Still, we can all think of a better use of 18 hours. Here’s where drivers are most likely to waste that time sitting bumper-to-bumper.
• The convergence of I-70, I-60 and Highway 71 – an intersection in the downtown loop – landed at No.56 on the American Transportation Research Institute’s national list of “top bottlenecks.”
• Commuters who head into downtown every day from South Johnson County say U.S. 69 at rush hour is a “log jam” and Shelly Smith, who’s commuted to her job near the Music Hall for two decades from Overland Park, calls I 35 a parking lot. “The problem is, it seems like there’s an accident every single day and when that happens, you’re screwed. It’s all about the hurry up and wait.”
• The closing last month of a portion of I 70 for two years while the Lewis and Clark Viaduct is demolished and replaced is causing increased rush-hour congestion all along the downtown loop. Mike Ramsey who used to cross the bridge into KCK says it’s been “a little slice of hell” since the closure.
• Other locations where you can find yourself at a standstill include the Grandview Triangle, the intersection of US 69 and I 635, I 70 in and out of downtown to Lee’s Summit and Independence between I 470 and I 435.
I Rode the Bus and It Didn’t Suck
WORDS SHERRY KUEHL
A lot of us have weird emotions about mass transit (and by a lot of us, I mean me). I’m all for hopping on the metro in D.C. or riding the tube in London, but take the bus in Kansas City – are you kidding me? (#hardpass) The only bus I ride in the metro is the “Blue Bus” at the airport that takes you to and from the economy parking lot.
To get over my lack of enthusiasm for local mass transit, I decided to ride the bus from Overland Park into downtown Kansas City. Since I was a novice bus rider, I went online to Ride KC and found out I could catch the bus by my second favorite McDonalds (119th and Metcalf) and go to Crown Center for basically the cost of a Diet Coke.
On a Monday morning at 7 a.m. I parked my car by Mickey D’s and tentatively perched myself in the bus kiosk area. At first, I was the only one at the bus stop –which felt weird because according to the Johnson County Transit Authority, more than a half million rides were taken on JoCo buses last year. But as soon as the bright blue Ride KC bus came into sight, several people got out of their cars and made their way to the kiosk. As we boarded the “404” (that’s transit lingo for the Metcalf-Downtown route), I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was clean, perfectly climate controlled and comfortable. (If it were a hotel, the bus would have been an older Marriott Courtyard. Not fancy, but serviceable.)
My fellow riders weren’t a talkative lot. Every single person had headphones in their ears and was staring down at their phone. When we stopped at 95th and Metcalf, just two people got on and at our last stop before heading downtown (79th and Marty), just one person hopped aboard. In an informal survey, everybody on the bus was commuting to work and most were doing it to save money because working downtown adds up. (Although one man did tell me he couldn’t drive because of a DUI and another woman had her car in the shop.)
32-year-old Susan Turner, whose office is near Crown Center, says that before she started riding the bus, she was paying close to $200 a month for parking. If you add in the wear and tear on her car and the cost of gas for her 28-mile daily round trip commute, she estimated she’s saving more than $500 a month by taking the bus. Turner says that extra money has been going to pay off her student loans.
“It’s not a bad ride. It takes probably 20 minutes longer than driving yourself, but I just use the time to read or answer emails, so I don’t mind it.”
She adds that some of her co-workers, who also in live in Overland Park, think she’s crazy for taking the bus to work, but after riding it for almost a year she’s not feeling any urge to go back to driving.
“It killed me to pay for monthly parking and I love not putting a bunch of miles on my car. To me, it’s totally worth it.”
I’ll admit it was a fairly stress-free way to get downtown. I got off at the Crown Center stop almost exactly on schedule at 8:04 and then – to up my mass transit game – I got on the street car and rode it to the Power and Light stop. I felt like I was living large in the big city.
I just might be getting on team KC Ride. I know I had a huge shift in thinking when, several weeks ago, I was talking to my husband about meeting him downtown for an event. I suggested that I could take the bus to Crown Center and then I would meet him at Union Station – that way we wouldn’t have two cars downtown. He gave me a confused look that said: “Where is my wife and what have you done with her?”
Full disclosure: that never happened because the weather got dicey and I decided staying home cuddled up on the couch beat anything happening at Union Station. But, I am retraining my brain to think about mass transit as an option. (I even put the Ride KC app on my phone.) So, here’s hoping I see you on the bus.
Pot Holes, Patches, and Pitted Pavement
What’s the deal with Missouri’s Roads?
It’s estimated that Missouri drivers spend $4.5 billion each year in one unexpected area. No, this number doesn’t reflect fast food purchases, coffee runs or car washes. Instead, according to a transportation research group called TRIP, commuters shell out this annual figure for new tires, vehicle repair and extra fuel.
The culprit? Bad roads. A survey compiled by KC Stat revealed 42 percent of residents identified as “strongly dissatisfied” or “dissatisfied” with city streets. The American Society of Civil Engineers assigned a grade to Missouri’s bridges and roads: C- and C, respectively. Their report also counts over three hundred “functionally obsolete” bridges. Based on Federal Highway Administration data the Show-Me state makes the top 20 list for states with the worst public roads.
In Governor Eric Greitens recent budget proposal, he’s allocated a $162.8 million increase in funding for roads and bridges. Some say that’s not nearly enough. Bridgette Williams, the executive director of the Heavy Contractors Association of Greater Kansas City, claims the current budget amount is “akin to shooting an elephant with a BB gun.”
The organization asserts that the state is almost 2 billion dollars behind in infrastructure overhauls and isn’t shy about using billboards to share their feelings. One billboard on the way in to downtown reads “Welcome to Missouri: Home of America’s most outdated roads and bridges. Hello, Governor Greitens?!”
Melissa Black, with the Missouri Department of Transportation, says help for Kansas City is on the way. She cites that more than $200 million is being invested in 60 road projects in KCMO this year that range from high-impact bridge and interchange repairs to almost 500 miles of resurfacing.
MoDot Extreme Make Over – Road Edition
• More bridge repairs and replacements along the I-470 corridor through Lee’s Summit, including the Douglas Street Bridge
• Continued work on the Route 50 and Route 291 Interchange Project, also in Lee’s Summit.
• A rehabilitation project on the Buck O’Neil Bridge, which will limit traffic to only northbound.
• Several bridge rehabilitation and repair projects on I-70 including the Pittman, Chrysler and Phelps Bridges near the stadiums, as well as the Eighth, Ninth, 10th and Charlotte Street bridges downtown.
• I-435 and Route 210 Interchange project will continue through December.
• I-70 and Route F Interchange Project in Oak Grove will change this busy trucking interchange into a more efficient diverging diamond.I-70 and Route 65 Bridges in Marshall will also undergo extensive rehabilitation.
• I-435 South Loop Link corridor project will upgrade bridges and pavement from State Line Road to Grandview Road.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 20 minutes
Mood during commute: Happy to go to work doing the job I love.
Biggest road improvement needed: Pot holes on Ward Parkway.
Driver pet peeve: Drivers going slow in the fast lane.
Dr. Ben Unruh
Distance: 19 miles
Time: 20-25 minutes
Mood during commute: Relaxed (Commuting against traffic toward downtown.)
Biggest road improvement needed: Light Rail to airport or Arrowhead!
Driver pet peeve: Texting while driving.
Directer of Marketing Kansas City Ballet
Distance: 20 miles
Time: 30 minutes morning/ 50 minutes evening
Mood during commute: Depends on what’s in store for me on the way in to work or on my way home.
Biggest road improvement needed: From the Bond bridge to I-70.
Driver pet peeve: How long it takes for stalled cars, mattresses and other junk to be cleared off the shoulders or medians. Also, how fast people in cars with city government plates drive.
Corporate Relations Director
Distance: 13.2 miles
Time: 21 minutes (without traffic)
Mood during commute: Good.
Biggest road improvement needed: Better 71 highway safety near the high traffic Hospital Hill and I-70 E and W Interchange. I was rear-ended there badly there going northbound at 5:00 p.m. A tow truck hangs out there because there are so many accidents nearby.
Driver pet peeve: People texting.