Archive for Sunday, November 4, 1990

BOND VOTES TO CLOSE CHAPTER IN LOCAL CONTROVERSIES

November 4, 1990

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Voters in Tuesday's election will encounter forks in two roads in the separate bond issues for the south Lawrence trafficway and eastern parkway.

Douglas County voters, including those in Lawrence, will decide whether to approve the already-issued $4 million in bonds for the trafficway. Lawrence voters alone will vote on a separate $4 million bond issue for the parkway. Together, the two roads comprise the majority of the proposed circumferential loop of highways around Lawrence.

The trafficway is a 14.1-mile road proposed by the county to loop around the western and southern areas of Lawrence. It is designed to connect with the Kansas Turnpike northwest of Lawrence and Kansas Highway 10 east of the city.

The parkway's route is not determined, although it is expected to follow a "corridor route," which extends from K-10, near East Hills Business Park, to the Kansas River bridges in downtown Lawrence.

NEITHER OF the projects, especially the trafficway, has been without controversy. Opponents of the trafficway have criticized its route and its potential negative impact on local traffic and the environment.

"One of the biggest strikes against the present roadway planned by the commission is that it's too near 23rd Street," said Leslie W. Blevins Sr., who sued the county in 1987 over the right to vote on the project.

Blevins said he thinks the trafficway will bring more traffic onto city streets, such as Louisiana Street, on which he lives.

"If you transfer traffic from one street to another, that's not a gain," he said.

County officials disagree with Blevins' conclusions. Chris McKenzie, county administrator, said the trafficway would help thin traffic 23rd Street as well as other streets that motorists use to avoid 23rd.

"We strongly believe this is a good investment in the future planning of the community," he said.

DOUGLAS COUNTY Public Works Director Frank Hempen said the trafficway would serve two purposes, getting through traffic around the city and allowing people to go from point to point in Lawrence.

"It's more than a bypass," he said. "It's a multipurpose roadway."

Also at issue is the trafficway's potential effect on the Baker Wetlands. The route of the trafficway, on 31st Street from Louisiana to Haskell, will run through the northern edge of the wetlands, taking 11.89 acres with it. Just what impact the trafficway might have on the wetlands remains to be seen, said wildlife author Joe Collins.

"Maybe it will do nothing," he said. "Maybe it will be the death knell of both habitats (including the Elkins Prairie area in the northwest leg). You just don't know."

The county developed two plans to mitigate the lost acreage in the wetlands. One plan would add 15.3 acres of new wetlands, the other would enhance 72.6 acres in the existing area.

THE PARKWAY route has not generated the same kind of controversy, but still has been the focal point of heated debate. The city promotes the road as an unclogged route from K-10 to downtown that would alleviate traffic on East Lawrence residential streets, as a way for farmers north of the city to reach farm-related businesses on East 23rd Street and means of decreasing travel time from the East Hills Business Park to the Lawrence Municipal Airport.

"This is a road that's been needed for 25 years," said Myles Schachter, a downtown businessman who headed the task force that studied the parkway.

Most critics agree that an eastern bypass is needed, but disagree with the plan to have the road come into downtown in the general area of Seventh and New Hampshire to Sixth and Massachusetts streets.

"We think a better idea is to get all of the truck traffic (from Johnson County) off of K-10 and up to the turnpike before it gets into the city," said J.B. Stephens, spokesman of Citizens for Appropriate Roads and Environmental Safeguards (CARES).

THE COST of the projects is another factor.

The initial phase of the trafficway will cost $41,785,000. Eighty-nine percent, or $37.06 million, of the project's cost would be financed by secured outside funds from the state, the federal government and the Kansas Turnpike Authority. The other 11 percent, if approved, would come from the $4 million bond issue and $722,900 from other county funds.

Proponents of the road call this financing "a bargain," while detractors say it would cost more money if the "wrong route" is built. The supporters also are quick to point out that the $37.06 million will go to other state and federal projects if the bond issue is defeated.

The parkway's financing is not as far along as the trafficway's. The city estimates the project's cost at $10.5 million, with $6.5 million to be pursued from federal and state sources. The city has pledged not to issue as much as $2.7 million of the bonds until these outside funds have been secured.

The county estimates that an owner of a $75,000 home will pay $5.14 per year in property taxes if the trafficway bond issue passes. The city calculated that the same home owner, in Lawrence only since this is a city referendum, would pay an average of $4.70 in additional property taxes if voters pass the parkway bond issue.

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