With Greene County ready to begin Kansas Expressway extension work next summer in south Springfield, a group opposed is doing what it can to be heard ahead of dirt turning.
Project plans 30 years in the making call for taking Kansas Expressway, which currently ends at Republic Road, into Christian County. At issue is the path it’s designed to take – snaking around affluent gated communities – and some residents are pointing to traffic and environmental flaws in the county’s decades-long plan to, ultimately, connect with Cox Road which heads to Nixa.
Over 50 people showed up at the Aug. 7 Greene County commissioners’ meeting wearing red and voicing their opposition – even though the plan already is approved.
“Mainly, this road doesn’t make any sense,” said Jane Paul, the group’s leader and the initial organizer of the North-South Corridor Alliance. “It’s just very black and white.”
The alliance formed in mid-June, after a March informational meeting at Wanda Gray Elementary School revealed an environmental assessment of the land the extension would occupy.
The $30 million project, designed in two phases, was planned to extend the four-lane Kansas Expressway from Republic Road south to Weaver Road, aka Farm Road 178.
The second phase, which continues the expressway to Plainview Road, or Farm Road 182, would not be completed until undetermined additional financing comes in. Construction, expected to begin next summer, would pass the future Veterans Affairs clinic on Republic Road and then veer to the east to tie into Kansas Avenue before arriving at Weaver Road.
Aside from speaking out, those in opposition have hired an attorney to help make their case.
Among them is alliance co-founder and Springfield businessman Doug Pitt, whose family developed the nearby Timberbrook neighborhood where he lives and which has a gated entrance on Kansas Avenue. The group has raised about $8,000 in donations, largely from over 60 homeowners, for an attorney’s report, and collected over 500 signatures on a petition against the extension, Paul said.
The highway history
In 2006, Springfield City Council first considered a bill that would gather funds for a north-south corridor study, and in 2007 that study was adopted.
The study, including residents from Springfield, Battlefield and Nixa, identified West Bypass as a preferred route.
“Campbell was the people’s second choice and the desired route of the city of Nixa,” the alliance’s website reads. “This route makes more sense to develop south of Plainview than spending on Kansas Expressway.”
Greene County Highway Department Assistant Administrator Adam Humphrey said Nixa officials are planning for the inevitable.
“As Cox Road goes south into Christian and Greene counties, they have made a determination to reserve right-of-way adjacent to that corridor,” he said, noting he and Nixa officials have been talking regularly. “They’re dedicating it for the future road.”
Travis Cossey, Nixa’s Planning and Development director, could not be reached for comment.
Consideration of an additional north-south corridor goes back much farther – to 1984, according to Greene County’s website, when both the county and Springfield recommended a major thoroughfare program. It called on the extension of Kansas Expressway south of Route M/Republic Road. In 1987, the program was approved.
Then, in the 1990s, county leaders recognized Kansas Expressway as a solution to relieve traffic congestion between Christian County, Humphrey told the crowd at the recent commissioners’ meeting. That’s when the county began purchasing land. Today, the county only has about 10 percent of the land left to buy for the expressway. Paul said the county has spent about $3 million acquiring right of way, but Humphrey was unable to confirm the amount.
Humphrey said the public debate for the extension has had many years to take place, and the department is committed to moving forward.
The North-South Corridor Alliance, however, attempted to use the recent environmental assessment as a roadblock to the plans.
Led by Paul, Pitt and other property owners within the study area – Brent Brown, Justin French and Michael Sutton – hired Spencer Fane LLP attorney Jason Smith to review the assessment.
“It was an absolute lashing,” Pitt said. “People were operating outside their expertise. There were numerous deficiencies.”
If the project proceeds, according to the report, it would require the removal of about 45 acres of trees, cutting around such neighborhoods as Timberbrook, Woodfield Park and Stone Meadow, where lots with county-appraised values upwards of $300,000 would back up to the new thoroughfare.
According to county maps and assessor tax records, the planned Kansas Expressway will slice through two properties owned by Pitt family trusts – one an acre-lot valued at roughly $860,000 and the other with it’s own private drive – before connecting with the current two-lane Kansas Avenue. Paul also lives in Timberbrook.
The attorney’s report also says the extension could pose a threat to endangered species such as the northern long-eared bat, the gray bat and the Ozark cavefish.
“Greene County, the Federal Highway Administration and the Missouri Department of Transportation failed to adequately investigate, study and analyze the potential impacts to a number of identified and significant resources associated with the project,” the report reads.
Humphreys argued the environmental assessment was in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of proposed actions prior to making decisions.
“We anticipate an approval to proceed forward,” Humphrey said.
Pitt also identified two roads that connect to Campbell Avenue would see heavier traffic. Weaver/FR 178 could experience a 35 percent increase in traffic from Campbell, and Plainview/FR 182 could see a 75 percent increase, according to the environmental assessment.
Alliance organizers claim neither road is equipped to even handle the existing traffic on them, and the county’s plan doesn’t provide a traffic solution.
The clock is ticking for the alliance.
Paul, a Murney Associates real estate agent who co-owns The Sound of Freedom USA gun shop and range in Ozark, said while the extension may have made sense at one point, it feels too late to build now.
“It should have been built 30 years ago,” she said.
Another public meeting regarding updates on the project likely will be scheduled in the fall, Humphrey said. The purpose of the meeting will be to present the final layout of the extension, based on determinations made by the Federal Highway Administration of the least impactful route.
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