On a 6-3 vote, planners agreed that city and county commissioners should lobby for a 32nd Street trafficway route that would build the road through the Baker Wetlands and move an existing portion of 31st Street south off of the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University.
Commissioners said they favored the 32nd Street option because it appears to produce the least amount of cost to local government and that they feared a south of the river option would promote premature growth in the area.
"If KDOT can produce on its promises, I think this 32nd Street route has the potential to be the type of good-faith effort that can bring the major parties to the table and perhaps reach a compromise," Planning Commission Chair Ron Durflinger said. "It's not perfect, but it seems to be something everyone should take a look at."
The 32nd Street plan proposed by the Kansas Department of Transportation would enlarge the Baker Wetlands by up to 400 acres in exchange for Baker's permission to run the road through its property. KDOT also has agreed to pay the costs to relocate the portion of 31st Street between Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street in an attempt to alleviate Haskell's concerns about the growing amounts of traffic that travel through its southern campus. The rerouted 31st Street would be built several hundred feet to the south, also on Baker property.
Commissioners said the fact that KDOT is willing to pay for that relocation was a major benefit of the 32nd Street plan because it was unlikely that city or county officials would ever be willing to pay for that expense.
Planners also liked the 32nd Street route, in part, because they were fearful of the growth consequences that could come with a 42nd Street route south of the river, since the county allows residential development of five acres or more to occur without going through the planning commission.
"South of the river will produce sprawl," Planning Commissioner Andrew Ramirez said. "It won't be the type of sprawl you normally think of, but it will produce lots of five acre tract housing. It will produce cappuccino cowboys who will want their roads perfect and find out the hard way that it is not as easy as it looks to maintain five acres of property. That weighs heavily against a 42nd Street route in my mind."
Planning Commissioners David Burress, John Haase, and Myles Schachter all voted against the recommendation, saying that a south of the river route would better serve the community's long-term needs and be more feasible to build.
"You have to think about how long it will take to build this road," Burress said. "The delay in building is going to come from court challenges."
Burress said that a route south of the river should eliminate all opposition from litigants associated with Haskell and should significantly reduce the number of environmentalists opposed to the road who have successfully sued roadway officials in the past.
The dissenting trio also argued that there was no need to go through the wetlands because traffic projections show that a 42nd Street trafficway will carry nearly as much traffic as any north-of-the-river route, and that 42nd Street SLT could be used as a major city street once the area surrounding it develops.
In making their decision, planning commissioners followed the recommendation of its own SLT task force, which endorsed a 32nd Street route last week.
The planning commission's recommendation will now be considered by county and city commissioners at a special joint meeting on Oct. 23. At that meeting city and county commissioners hope to agree on a route that both governments can recommend to KDOT.
KDOT ultimately will submit a route for approval by the Army Corps of Engineers, but a route recommendation from Lawrence officials is expected to weigh heavily in the process.
Only nine planning commissioners voted on the issue because Commissioner Jacob Plants was absent. In addition to Durflinger and Ramirez, commissioners Jane Bateman, Sue Pine, Tom Jennings and Roger Schenewerk voted in favor of the recommendation.
- Staff Writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.