The portion of 31st Street that runs through the Baker Wetlands will have to become a four-lane road even if the South Lawrence Trafficway is built, according to a report released Friday.
But the report, requested by Lawrence city and Douglas County commissioners, concludes that not all the necessary improvements can be made without encroaching on the wetlands.
"I think what it says to me is that we can do some things to improve the road and make it serve us better for the next eight to 10 years, but long-term, the road would still be like 23rd Street," County Commissioner Bob Johnson said.
County commissioners on Monday and city commissioners on Tuesday will discuss the preliminary findings of a study by TranSystems Corporation to determine the feasibility of widening and improving the existing 31st Street. Also studied is the feasibility of expanding 31st Street east of Haskell Avenue to perhaps Noria Road or County Route 1057.
Commissioners are particularly interested in how many improvements they can make to the existing 31st Street without being required to receive significant federal permits to disturb the wetlands. Approval of those permits has stalled the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway for several years.
"It looks like we could do some improvements that may not require an involved permit process, but it is not real black and white yet," County Engineer Keith Browning said.
The study concludes some improvements will have to be made to 31st Street whether the trafficway is completed because the intersections at 31st Street and Haskell Avenue and at 31st and Louisiana streets are already operating at failing levels.
The existing portion of 31st Street doesn't immediately need to be converted to four lanes, but it will need to be expanded sometime after 2012 to handle projected traffic volumes.
The report suggests several improvements that can be made immediately, though, that should reasonably accommodate traffic through 2012. They include:
Adding traffic signals at 31st Street and Haskell Avenue and at 31st and Louisiana streets;
Lengthening existing turn lanes at both intersections;
Re-paving and reconstructing the existing portion of 31st Street between Haskell Avenue and 1000 feet west of Louisiana Street, including paving of the road's gravel shoulders.
The report estimates the current stretch of road between Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street could be re-paved and reconstructed for $550,000. Improvements to the two intersections, though, would cost just less than $2 million.
The report also briefly examines the costs to extend 31st Street east to Noria Road. The study estimates it would require $10.25 million, plus the amount needed to buy right-of-way for the route, which would go through a growing part of southeast Lawrence.
Johnson said he hopes the report will help build support for a 32nd Street route for the trafficway, which would include relocating the existing 31st Street several hundred feet south of its current location, largely at state expense.
"What I hope this says to people in Lawrence is that there is a tremendous cost this community will have to bear for road improvements in this area, but it will be far greater if we don't have the trafficway," Johnson said.