Two-and-a-half hours of public comment didn't sway Douglas County commissioners from their previous positions as they agreed on a 2-1 vote Wednesday to recommend a 32nd Street route for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Douglas County Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney agreed to urge state officials to complete the trafficway along a 32nd Street route. They said a 32nd Street route would do the most to serve local traffic needs, would be the least expensive option for taxpayers and would offer the best chance to finish the road.
"We're going to be a lesser community if we don't get this issue resolved," Johnson said. "We have bigger fish to fry, and we're not going to be able to stay in the kitchen much longer if we don't put this issue behind us."
Commissioner Charles Jones voted against the recommendation, in part, because he said a 32nd Street route would face stiff legal opposition from people concerned about the Baker Wetlands. Jones supported a route south of the Wakarusa River that would avoid the wetlands.
"I think the legal options are weak for this route, and I believe the political options are dissolving as the Graves administration comes to an end," Jones said. "And one of my guiding principals has always been to support Haskell, and I'm not going to compromise that belief, especially when I think 32nd Street is dead-on-arrival."
If completed, the trafficway would connect Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence with Interstate 70 northwest of Lawrence. The western 9 miles of the road are finished and open, but the eastern third remains only in the planning stage.
The 32nd Street route would complete the road through the northern section of the Baker Wetlands and relocate a portion of the existing 31st Street off Haskell Indian Nations University property next to the trafficway.
During the public comment section of the meeting, commissioners heard both support and opposition for a 32nd Street route.
Opponents argued that the route would do large amounts of damage to the Baker Wetlands, wouldn't respect the historic and cultural ties Haskell Indian Nations University has for the land, and wouldn't solve the community's long-term traffic problems.
Supporters argued that the road would better move local traffic than a south-of-the-river option, and that a southern route also would create environmental harm and affect approximately 35 homes.
One voice commissioners heard was from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, which announced that its board of directors voted Wednesday to support a 32nd Street route.
Both supporters and opponents did ladle a heavy dose of criticism on the Kansas Department of Transportation for not providing the community with more options to choose from, particularly a route that would be further south and would affect fewer homes.
"KDOT could build a road even further south if they wanted to that would not impact so many homes, but they want to try to scare this community into choosing 32nd Street," said Stan Ross, a Haskell alumnus.
The county's recommendation will be forwarded to the Kansas Department of Transportation, which will include the information in a draft Environmental Impact Statement. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must approve the EIS before work can begin on any route.