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Developments renew call for 47th Street road improvements

Friday, February 2 2007 12:00 AM
By Chris Moon

With two major commercial developments in the works, 47th Street South should be on the cusp of rapid growth.

However, local officials say, the area between Interstate 135 and South Broadway may be just as likely to flop because of a deteriorating infrastructure.

“That particular area is just a quagmire of different problems,” says Sedgwick County Commission Time Norton, who represents the area. “If some bold action and risk isn’t taken soon, we’ll all deserve what happens down there. It can go one way or the other.”

For years, the area has been economically depressed. And for years, local leaders have talked about securing funding to improve it.

But nearby developments are spurring a renewed effort to improve the area.

At 47th Street and Broadway, there are plans for a Home Depot Store and another smaller commercial development.

Meanwhile at 47th Street and I-135, 50 acres of ground are being cleared for a project by developer Jay Maxwell, who hasn’t disclosed specific plans for the land. But as of today, there is no access to the ground.

“To have retail, you’ve got to have access,” says Wichita City Councilman Jim Skelton, noting the Home Depot development. “That’s only going to increase the pressure on the roadways. (Customers are) not going to fly in by helicopter.”

Skelton says he is planning to write letters to state officials asking for help in funding infrastructure improvements to the area. Last week, he was in Topeka lobbying local legislators for funding.

The area marks the convergence of I-135 and the Kansas Turnpike. Just north of that is the 47th Street interchange. Still further north, I-235 merges with I-135.

A key problem is the congestion created by cars trying to get off I-135 at the 47th Street bridge, which recently received minor upgrades.

“When I look at that bridge – it’s holding the whole south side back economically,” Skelton says.

But state funding for upgrades remains elusive. No funding for 47th Street is in the current Comprehensive Transportation Plan that expires in 2009. Money for projects in the plan remains tight, says Terry Heidner, director of planning and development for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

High Traffic Count
Heidner says the department may begin work on future projects before 2009, but wasn’t sure which ones.

“(47th Street is) certainly on our radar screen,” he says. “We hear about it every time we go down there.”

Without a full state commitment, Skelton says, the city and county should examine creating a transportation development district to aid the infrastructure needs of the area.

He says the economic development potential for the area outweighs the public funds that would be needed for the infrastructure.

But no formal talks have begun among city or council leaders.

Local businesses have been waiting for improvements.

“The do need to do something there. There’s a pretty high traffic count,” says Jim Brown, who owns three ABC Superstores in Wichita, one of them on 47th Street near I-135.

He says traffic on I-135 backs up as vehicles try to exit onto 47th Street.

“I think it would help business. That’s the bottom line. It can’t hurt it,” Brown says.

Linda Hickam, a real estate agent for Landmark Commercial Real Estate Inc., has been looking for tenants for a shopping center at 47th and Broadway.

“I have often thought that has been an ignored market,” she says.

The center, which already houses a K-Mart, has a 7,000-square-foot vacancy.

In the past, traffic from Derby had frequented 47th Street for shopping and dining, Hickam says. But developments in Derby may be keeping those shoppers in their hometown.

Still, Hickam says, improved infrastructure would help shore up 47th Street.

“I do think it needs to be done,” she says. “It is sort of convoluted there, if you drive it.”

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