The state highway department's point man for the embattled South Lawrence Trafficway said Tuesday that proposed 32nd and 42nd street routes are the leading candidates for completion.
Mike Rees, chief counsel for the Kansas Department of Transportation, made the statement to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Other proposed alignments include routes on 31st, 35th and 38th streets. A "no-build" option is also being considered, Rees said Tuesday.
The planning commission is forming a committee to review the proposed alignments. But there's little more than a month to go before a KDOT consultant finishes taking input about the proposals.
So Commission Chairman Ron Durflinger asked Rees which alignments should get the committee's attention.
"We're studying all the alignments equally," Rees said,
But, he said, the 32nd and 42nd street appear to have the most potential. The 31st Street and "no-build" options are also in the mix, Rees said.
A route for the trafficway has been sought since 1985, when county commissioners announced plans for the road, but KDOT is now in charge of the project. City and state officials see it as key to alleviating traffic in south 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.
The committee three planning commissioners and representatives of the city, county and school governments will review the 31st, 32nd and 42nd Street routes before the end of September.
"I don't think (the committee review) is an attempt to recommend an alignment," Durflinger said, "but to analyze the land-use implications."
Commissioner David Burress said the committee should make a recommendation that reflects community consensus for the 42nd Street alignment, which would run south of the Wakarusa River.
"The question is, is it possible to document a community consensus on 42nd Street in 30 days?" Burress said.
"The community has had 14, 15 years to build a consensus, and it hasn't," Durflinger responded. "To think we could build it in the next 30 days is naive."
"There's an emerging consensus on 42nd," Burress said.
Support for a south-of-the-river route isn't new. The State Highway Commission recommended such an alignment for a "southern bypass" in a 1972 study of Lawrence area traffic. The city incorporated that proposal in Plan 95, a comprehensive planning guide adopted in 1977.
"Nothing's original," Michael Young, the city's transportation intern, said Tuesday while looking at the old proposal maps.
The 1972 report recommended building south of the river to "avoid crossing Baker University Wetlands Research Area or Haskell American Indian Junior College."
Those recommendations were discarded in 1985 in favor of a 31st Street alignment to alleviate 23rd Street congestion.
Gary Toebben, then-executive vice president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal-World at the time that the previous recommendations "seem to be less feasible at the moment than a south bypass that would use 31st.
"As everyone knows who drives around much in the community, 23rd Street is one of the most congested trafficways that we have," Toebben said. "Some of it could be routed on a bypass around town."
Rees said the south-of-the-river route then was abandoned because it didn't seem financially feasible. Earlier this year, he said KDOT decided to seriously study a trafficway south of the Wakarusa River because the community kept saying the state agency never had seriously studied the route before.
"The public demanded we do it, if we were going to do the trafficway," he said.
Also Tuesday, Rees said reports this week that the state had made a $5 million deal with Haskell Indian Nations University to support the project were false.
Rees said the state still has $5 million available, but it would be used to mitigate damage done to the Baker Wetlands by the trafficway. He said the plan is to expand the wetlands by adding 400 acres to the west and east of its present location, creating a buffer zone on both sides. The plan under consideration also includes the construction of a research facility that would be available to the public.
In 1999, KDOT offered a $5 million mitigation proposal to Haskell. That proposal included the possibility of a research facility, but Rees said that offer no longer is on the table.
"We have no outstanding offer with Haskell administration," he said.