Commissioners agree the need for a new east-west trafficway outweighs concerns about hastening suburban sprawl.
Despite concerns that it will hasten suburban sprawl to the west, Lawrence city commissioners agreed Tuesday to share with Douglas County in the local cost of building a new interchange on the South Lawrence Trafficway at 15th Street.
The project is one Douglas County commissioners hope to get funded through the system enhancement portion of the state's new Comprehensive Transportation Program.
County officials estimate the total project cost at just under $7.4 million.
The total includes about $630,000 for engineering, acquisition of rights-of-way and moving utilities, the minimum costs the Kansas Department of Transportation expects a community to pay to qualify for system enhancement money.
Under that program, communities go through a competitive review process to get funding for highway projects they believe will improve traffic conditions or spur economic development.
The interchange at 15th and the SLT was among dozens of projects statewide that passed the first review test at KDOT. Municipalities now have until Dec. 8 to submit additional details on proposals they want funded, including the matching funds the cities and counties are willing to commit.
At a meeting Nov. 22, county commissioners tentatively agreed to keep the 15th Street interchange on its priority list but asked the city of Lawrence to commit to at least half of the $630,000 minimum local match.
"As long as we've had the SLT, I've been asking myself why don't we have the interchange there to help facilitate traffic flow in town and through town," Commissioner Jim Henry said.
One resident, Julie Hack, objected to the project, saying it would bring more traffic to 15th Street in an area where two new grade schools are being planned.
But Commissioner Mike Rundle said he thought an interchange at 15th Street was inevitable someday, although he was concerned it could cause problems if it is done too early.
Rundle noted the city is applying for system enhancement money to widen Sixth Street between Kasold and the SLT. He also said the interchange should be delayed until the city is ready for more westward growth along the 15th Street corridor.
"I have no hope of saying 'no,' but I've certainly tried to say 'not yet' to the county commissioners," Rundle said.
City Manager Mike Wildgen, however, explained that the application was for funding under a 10-year highway program, and even if the projects get approved, there is no way to predict which year they will be scheduled.
Mayor Erv Hodges and Commissioner David Dunfield both said the city needs to improve 15th Street to relieve east-west traffic on Sixth, Ninth, and Clinton Parkway
"Every time we restrict traffic east and west, we end up shoving traffic through neighborhoods and we end up creating problems," Hodges said. "I think this interchange is needed."
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