The current process to gather community input on a south Lawrence bypass shouldn't be cut short, but once it is complete, a decision needs to be made.
Plans for a bypass south of Lawrence seem to be heading down the track and picking up speed. Let's hope the latest round of discussions and negotiations don't end in another train wreck.
The Osprey Group, a Boulder, Colo., consulting firm hired by the Kansas Department of Transportation to gather public input and facilitate discussions about a bypass route, expects to complete its work by the end of September. In the last week, two different groups one initiated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and another by Baker University have been formed to seek input in the process.
A sense of urgency seems to be forming about this issue which has hung over the community for more than a decade. If the community doesn't make a decision, the decision could be made for us.
For many years, it seemed that community opinion on this project didn't matter much. Government entities seemed to hold all the cards. Regardless of what the community wanted, plans for the South Lawrence Trafficway could either be advanced or vetoed by environmental decisions related to the Baker Wetlands or Haskell Indian Nations University.
Now, the community is being asked to participate directly in the process. Some people are taken aback at the speed with which the Osprey Group is trying to conduct the community process, but why should it take longer? After 15 years, the issues of this controversy have been fully examined and another 30 or 60 days isn't likely to change anything. It may be time for the community to make a decision and live with it.
The two bypass routes receiving the most attention at this point are along a 32nd Street alignment and south of the Wakarusa River on a 42nd Street alignment. A couple of routes that run closer to the middle of the Baker Wetlands are still on the table but seem less likely at this point. Some residents still favor a "no build" option, but KDOT officials wouldn't be pursuing this project so vigorously if they were eager to accept that alternative.
Both the 32nd and 42nd street routes have pros and cons. The 32nd street alignment would move traffic away from Haskell and perhaps draw more traffic from 23rd Street but it would run through the north edge of the wetlands and possibly collide with Native American gravesites. A 42nd Street route would avoid the wetlands, but it would be more expensive to build and would require the retention of 31st Street for local traffic.
Project engineers have indicated that more detailed information about costs and access points will be available early next week, just in advance of a facilitated session for local representatives with Osprey Group on Thursday.
Once that information is on the table, Lawrence should do what any individual would do when faced with a difficult choice. It should make the best decision it can and move forward. The facts aren't going to change; the choices aren't going to get any easier. KDOT officials have asked for our input. We should give them a clear direction along with the message that we expect them to follow that direction.
We have put this decision off long enough.