City and county officials are demanding a time line for South Lawrence Trafficway construction so they can know how to proceed with their own study of 31st Street.
The demand came Wednesday morning during a joint meeting of the Douglas County Commission and the Lawrence City Commission with Mike Rees, chief legal counsel for Kansas Department of Transportation.
Wednesday's meeting was scheduled after the Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed to drop Haskell Indian Nations University's opposition to completion of the trafficway's eastern leg provided Douglas County agrees to vacate the portion of 31st Street that runs through the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. The deal appeared to negate a long-standing obstacle to the SLT's completion.
But it also could throw a monkey wrench into plans to improve 31st Street. The city and county are spending a combined $95,000 on the first phase of a consultant's study of 31st.
"We should let the left hand know what the right hand is doing," Lawrence Mayor Mike Rundle said.
A route for the trafficway has been sought since 1985, when county commissioners announced plans for the road. City and state officials see it as key to alleviating traffic in southern Lawrence.
The proposed bypass would connect Kansas Highway 10 on the city's east side with Interstate 70 northwest of Lawrence. The western leg of the trafficway has been finished and terminates at U.S. Highway 59 in southern Lawrence.
County Commissioner Charles Jones said the time line would affect the study's future. If SLT construction is further down the road, Jones said, city and county officials may decide to proceed with the 31st Street study's recommendations.
Rees said KDOT would provided a time line within six weeks. And he said environmental impact assessments on proposed routes could be completed by the end of this year.
"I don't suppose it's out of the question we could let (a bid on the project) next year," Rees said. "That's moving pretty darn fast."
Rees said though KDOT has started buying rights-of-way along a proposed 32nd Street route near Haskell, a final decision on the route has not been made.
"32nd Street is really a conceptual idea we really have no design work on it at all," he said. "Actually, some design work has started south of the (Wakarusa) river."
The south-of-the-river option has been favored by those who want minimal damage to the wetlands. Rees said that route would also run through some wetlands area, but said the impact would be less.
"I suspect the number of objections, at least in quantity, is going to rise once we start looking south of the river," he said.
Jones, meanwhile, indicated he thought KDOT was looking most strongly at the 32nd Street route and that route will probably be challenged in court, he said.
"Even under the scenario that a 32nd Street alignment goes through," he said, "I think we're years away from construction."