Under a new law approved by the Kansas Legislature, Johnson County has won approval to run express buses on the shoulder of Interstate 35 during rush hour.
Gov. Mark Parkinson has signed the bill, which allows the county to move ahead with its bus-on-shoulder plan that was developed as an alternative to operating rail service in the I-35 corridor between Olathe and Kansas City.
The law will allow buses to only run on the shoulder when traffic on I-35 dips to less than 35 mph. The buses would not be allowed to exceed the speed of interstate traffic by more than 10 mph. The plans would still have to be approved by the state transportation secretary.
Patterned after a bus-on-shoulder system in Minneapolis, the plan is intended to improve the reliability and speed of bus service on I-35 between the suburbs and downtown. Eight other metro areas, including Washington, D.C., and its Virginia suburbs, also allow buses on shoulders.
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Studies have shown that running buses on highway shoulders is relatively safe.
A study done by the Minnesota Department of Transportation found there were 20 accidents on the shoulder involving a bus between 1991 and 2001. Most crashes were described as "minor scrapes."
Since 2001, one injury crash involved a bus and that was a fatality. In that case, the bus driver was found not to be at fault, a study reported.
Experts reported similar results for a bus-on-shoulder operation in Miami. Authorities there said there were no “known incidents” related to the bus-on-shoulder service after it started three years ago, according to an engineering review done in 2009.
The county’s plan calls for adding five new routes that would add 36 more trips at rush hour between southern Olathe and Overland Park and downtown. The buses generally would run every half hour, according to a June 2009 report detailing the plan.
Startup costs from Johnson County’s plan are estimated at about $20 million, most of which is needed for new buses, transit stations and preparing the shoulders for the vehicles.
The county hopes to get the federal government to fund 80 percent of the capital costs and rely on local and state sources for the balance.
The county recently created a panel to study ways to fund increases bus service. Its report is due by late this year or early next year.
The new law required the county to make an annual report to the Legislature about the implementation and operation of the new service.