Car dealer seeks alternative to $10 million turnpike-Kellogg interchange

Officials from Joe Self Chevrolet made an 11th-hour pitch Tuesday to the Wichita City Council to simplify a turnpike interchange on East Kellogg near Webb Road that could cut $7 million from the project.

But city officials dismissed the idea, saying any change in the project would delay the $90 million Kellogg work for at least two years and drive project costs up enough to negate any possible savings.

John Bell, the dealership’s general manager, and government consultant Greg Ferris asked the council to consider two less disruptive alternatives – a ramp from the turnpike running north and east to Webb pegged to cost $3 million, or linking the turnpike exit and toll booth to the south frontage roads running along Kellogg just west of Webb.

The city has planned for elevated ramps off the turnpike, including a tunnel under Webb Road. It is expected to take five years to build; Self said it could cost $10 million.

Project bids are scheduled to be opened late this year with construction beginning in the spring of 2014.

“The plan that you approved – some of you were here, some weren’t – is deeply flawed,” Ferris said. “There is no question that in an attempt to access the Kansas Turnpike in close proximity to Webb Road, a design had to be created that frankly isn’t the best plan.”

Bell said the project will have disastrous consequences for the 37-year-old east-side Chevy dealership.

“It is a seriously flawed design that adds $10 million to the project and creates traffic and maintenance concerns,” he said.

For two years during construction, Bell said, the dealership’s 100-plus employees will have to be diverted into the surrounding neighborhood on Cypress and Orme streets, as will semi-trucks carrying cars and parts to the dealership. City officials disputed that, saying traffic disruptions would last only a couple of months.

“And even our employees will be forced east along our frontage road, through the complex weave Greg described,” Bell said.

“We expect some issues during road construction. What we don’t expect is possible dangerous results from a project.”

The city and state have agreed on a collection of elevated roads comprising an interchange from the turnpike to Kellogg. The turnpike’s proximity to Webb Road complicated the design.

City engineer Gary Janzen defended the city’s plan, calling it “one of the most complex projects we’ve ever worked on.”

“There is not an ideal answer here,” he said. “There is not a perfect design. We’re absolutely confident that the current design ... serves Webb Road, Kellogg and the turnpike the best, provides the most economical travel for all and provides the least congestion.”

Janzen said the alternatives presented to the city include a lot of unknowns, including stress on Webb Road, something the city wants to avoid. Moving a toll plaza to Webb Road would cost $2 million, he said, and signing is “almost impossible.” He said that the turnpike authority and the Kansas Department of Transportation don’t support the alternatives.

Plus, environmental studies would have to begin again with a new design, delaying the project a minimum of two years, Janzen said. That delay would add more than $5 million in project costs, he said – essentially negating any savings from a different design.

The request Tuesday, more than two years after the council approved what Joe Self describes as “spaghetti,” did not draw any comment from the council. It came during the public agenda where council members generally do not respond to requests.

Self told The Eagle on Monday that a Denver transportation consultant has recommended the $3 million ramp alternative. He said he commissioned the consultant’s study out of civic duty, even though the interchange will force his customers and vendors to circle south around his dealership.

“Even if this didn’t affect my dealership, we’d still be having this conversation,” he said Monday.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Self acknowledged that he’s taken his best shot at changing the project.

“It looks like it’s up to them to make a good decision on this. They still have time, but they need to move on this,” he said.

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