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Bridge closure to magnify traffic headaches for Derby

Daniel Caudill
K-15 is one of the main ways into Derby, but because it runs parallel to train tracks, it often gets backed up.

Local officials are still hoping for a major traffic project that could ease some of Derby’s congestion

There are a number of headaches that drivers may encounter when going to and from Derby, and upcoming construction on a bridge near K-15 won’t make those any better.

The repairs to a major bridge that crosses the Arkansas River on 63rd Street come at a time of growth for Derby.

With a regional hospital, dozens of parks and growing commerce, it’s not the tiny bedroom community it once was.

“What you see now is a lot of people outside of Derby are coming into Derby to access those services, those amenities and employment,” said Dan Squires, assistant city manager for development for the city of Derby.

Squires said thousands of people drive across the bridge on 63rd street every day. And when construction starts in the fall, it will completely close for at least a few weeks.

That means drivers will have to reroute to one of the two other intersections on K-15 that lead into Derby.

The problem is those intersections, along with most other routes into Derby, are already slammed during rush hour. That’s made more difficult by the fact that K-15 runs parallel to train tracks.

When a train comes by during a rush hour, cars turning left at major intersections on K-15 are often backed up.

“We don’t have near the significant transportation infrastructure in the southern portion of Sedgwick County, particularly east to west, that you find from Kellogg north,” Squires said.

A project called the ARC-95 corridor would potentially help bulk up that infrastructure, but it’s been in discussion since 2008 without much progress.

The corridor would add a route going east to west in the southern part of Sedgwick County. It would also potentially connect to the turnpike, giving Derby easier access to the highway.

Squires said he’s a lot more optimistic about ARC-95 moving forward with lawmakers in Topeka recently closing the “Bank of KDOT.” That means legislators are no longer borrowing funds from road and highway projects to fill holes in the state’s budget.

“You know, the price tag is the key and we’ve been working with KDOT to try to get ARC-95 into the development pipeline, so that we can start designing and acquiring right of way and stuff like that,” Squires said.

Jim Weber is the director of public works for Sedgwick County. He said the ARC-95 corridor would also include a graded railroad crossing that would help prevent traffic from getting blocked by trains, as it does on K-15.

“There’s a possibility that traffic coming farther south from Derby, or traffic that’s in the southern part of Derby might find benefits from ARC-95 and actually unload some traffic off of K-15,” Weber said.

The county is applying for a $6 million federal grant to help develop designs and a further plan for the ARC-95 corridor.

Weber said the project would take millions of dollars and collaboration from multiple levels of government.

And even then, its completion would still be quite a ways off.

“But that’s kind of long term,” Weber said. “I mean, that would be five-to-seven years out on a good schedule.”

Daniel Caudill is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. He was a reporter, photographer and digital content manager for The Derby Informer and an editor and reporter for The Sunflower. In the spring of 2020, Daniel helped cover the legislative session in Topeka as an intern for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @CaudillKMUW.