A glimmer of consensus is emerging among key Lawrence residents involved with the controversial eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Most folks, according to a study sponsored by the Kansas Department of Transportation, see the need for a thoroughfare, respect the wetlands, and prefer either the 32nd Street or south-of-the-Wakarusa River alignment. They also don't trust KDOT.
KDOT officials plan to use the survey to guide future attempts to reach consensus on completion of the trafficway, which has been stalled for years because of disagreement about where or if it should be built.
"This report sets the stage for a constructive dialogue that could lead to a resolution," said Dennis Donald, a principal with The Osprey Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm that conducted the survey.
"There are tough, sensitive issues involved here; I don't want to imply that a resolution will come easy," he said. "But at the same time, I see the glass as being half full. There's hope."
The survey involved lengthy interviews with 30 area residents both opponents and supporters with ties to groups concerned about the trafficway.
Among the survey's findings:
l Most said the importance of completing the trafficway superseded whatever route is chosen.
l Most believe the trafficway's effect on 23rd Street traffic congestion will be minimal.
l Participants want more information.
l There's little support for routing the trafficway through the Baker Wetlands along proposed 35th Street or 38th Street alignments.
l Attitudes toward Haskell Indian Nations University's role in the controversy "range from pride and empathy to resentment and incomprehension."
l KDOT's reputation is marred by its being seen as arrogant and not to be trusted. A majority gave Mike Rees, KDOT's chief counsel and point man on the trafficway, negative reviews.
"I'm crushed," Rees said, chuckling. "You know, at first I was kind of disappointed by that nobody likes to be told they're ineffective. But the more I thought about it, I'm kind of disappointed too, so I guess I don't disagree with that assessment."
Rees said the survey's findings are more positive than negative.
"It brought to better light where the discussion needs to go, and that's really what this is all about," he said.
More discussions are tentatively planned for September, Rees said, noting that a Denver meeting with several Haskell Board of Regents members also is in the works.
Marvin Buzzard, Haskell's director of administration, was among the 30 interviewed.
"I didn't come out of this with a sense that we're ever going to have a resolution that addresses everybody's concerns," Buzzard said. "But I think there's value in finding out how others feel about the issues. Who knows? Maybe with some new people there will be some new ideas."
Roger Boyd, a biology professor who oversees the Baker Wetlands on behalf of Baker University, welcomed the improved prospects of the trafficway not being routed through the wetlands.
"Thirty-second Street is still in the wetlands and I have a problem with that, but it's better than the 35th or 38th Street alignments," Boyd said. "I'd prefer to see it go south of the river."
Boyd, who was interviewed for the study, said he wasn't surprised by KDOT and Rees' poor showing.
"There's a very strong feeling out there that (Rees) is willing to tell each group whatever it wants to hear and then, after we get too far down the road to turn back, he'll say 'Oh, no, we can't do that.'"