The South Lawrence Trafficway isn't a matter of "my" problem or "your" problem. It is our problem and we all must work together to solve it.
An offer to get the South Lawrence Trafficway back on track apparently is on the table. Now, if the people involved can just come to that table with a willingness to work out what has become one of this city's most confounding stalemates.
Kansas Secretary of Transportation Dean Carlson has confirmed that the state has made some sort of monetary offer to Haskell Indian Nations University to help compensate the school for any negative effects that would result from 31st Street being widened and improved on the southern edge of the campus. Haskell officials say they have not received a formal offer and, therefore, are in no position to discuss its terms. But members of the Haskell Board of Regents, whose members live throughout the country, have nonetheless reiterated their contention that no amount of money will buy any cooperation on the road.
Although it's possible to understand their emotional response to this issue, it is disappointing to see the wall they are building between Haskell and the community that is its home. Lawrence has supported Haskell in many ways as it has evolved and grown in stature in recent years. Haskell is a valued part of the Lawrence community.
If a community is to work well, its members need to be willing and able to work together to solve community problems. The problem currently being focused on is how to deal with heavy highway traffic on streets that form Haskell's north and south borders. Easing traffic loads on 23rd Street was one of the initial goals of the South Lawrence Trafficway. Now, the traffic that is using 31st Street as an unofficial link from Kansas Highway 10 to the trafficway's western leg also is a major issue.
A four-lane road on the existing right-of-way on 31st Street could improve traffic safety and movement on both streets. Other routes have been considered. Government agencies have raised objections to proposed routes on 35th and 38th streets because of concerns about the environment and construction terrain.
Routing the trafficway south of the Wakarusa River would be a far more expensive option and set the construction schedule back for years. Highway officials also question whether a route that goes that far south would attract a significant number of drivers now traveling on 23rd and 31st streets, thereby failing to relieve heavy traffic on either side of the Haskell campus.
The state of Kansas and various federal agencies have been drawn into this issue, but the key to solving this dilemma truly rests with the ability of the local players -- Haskell, Baker University, Douglas County -- to come together as a community, share their concerns and try to solve a problem that affects them all.
Any of those entities could find some ax to grind in this issue. For instance, Baker, which owns the wetlands south of 31st Street, has worked hard to contribute to a compromise on the trafficway but apparently wasn't consulted before the state made its latest offer. Haskell and Douglas County have their own historical and current frustrations with this project.
But the fact remains: Solving the trafficway dilemma helps everyone; failing to reach an agreement hurts everyone. As a community, ALL of the parties involved must come together in a spirit of respect and cooperation to do what is best for the community as a whole and, therefore, what is best for each individual player.
Whatever mistakes have been made on the South Lawrence Trafficway are in the past. Surely, everyone involved regrets that this situation has reached its current impasse. We have only one way to go: into the future. Our success as a community, not only in solving this road issue but in future ventures, will depend on our ability to talk, listen and do what it takes to resolve difficult issues.