Archive for Wednesday, August 14, 2002

South Lawrence Trafficway’s history predates World War II

August 14, 2002



Hare and Hare Landscape of Kansas City, Mo., produces a "Major Thoroughfare Plan" for the Lawrence planning commission. The resulting map shows an early concept of a "boulevard" looping south around the city. The "southern" route is drawn along 20th Street.


A study by the State Highway Commission and the Federal Highway Administration declares the need for relief for traffic congestion on 23rd and Iowa streets. The subject of chapter five of the Lawrence Area Transportation Study-1964 was the possibility of an "outer circumferential route."

Later plans looked at the feasibility of making U.S. Highway 59 (Iowa Street) a circumferential road or entirely relocating the road. Interest in all the ideas eventually faded away.


The Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs grants Douglas County a 24-acre easement on Haskell Indian Nations University land for construction of 31st Street.

Years later, engineers would decide to use the easement for the trafficway.


County commissioners Nancy Hiebert, David Hopper and Warren Rhodes announce consideration of a $3.5 million bond issue for a southern trafficway connecting Kansas Highway 10 to the east and the Kansas Turnpike to the northwest.


A preliminary environmental impact statement reports that the trafficway can be built in such a way as to minimize harm to Baker Wetlands and Elkins Prairie.


Leslie W. Blevins Sr. files suit in Douglas County District Court to prevent release of county trafficway money until a vote on the bond issue. After his plea for an injunction is denied at district and appellate courts, Blevins appeals to the Kansas Supreme Court.


December The Kansas Supreme Court rules the county commission exceeded its home rule power in issuing $4 million in bonds. City and county officials are successful in getting the court to reconsider but agree to put the bond issue on a ballot anyway.


July The high court reverses its ruling, saying the 1985 bond issue was legal, only in this case. The election is slated for November.

November County residents vote 13,679 to 10,815, supporting $4 million in bonds for the trafficway.

November Three Douglas County residents sue the county, alleging the explanatory statement on the trafficway ballot unfairly influenced voters to favor the issue.

November The Elkins Prairie, an 80-acre patch of virgin prairie, is plowed by its owner, apparently an attempt to force a decision on a county purchase of the property.


Douglas County District Judge Mike Malone dismisses the suit. The residents appeal the decision to the Kansas Appeals Court in early 1991. The appeals court reverses Malone's decision in October 1991, and the suit goes to the Kansas Supreme Court, which rules 6-0 July 10, 1992, in favor of the county.


October A medicine wheel built earlier this year is dedicated on the Haskell campus.

December The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sends out public notices soliciting comments about plans to mitigate the 31st Street wetlands in the path of the trafficway. Douglas County fails to include Haskell on the mailing list. Four individuals and a few agencies respond by the Jan. 18 deadline. The Corps approves the permit without further public hearings.


February A citizens group called the Federation to Rescue Our Greenspace files suit in U.S. District Court against the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency for approving the trafficway's environmental impact statement. The listed plaintiffs allege the statement failed to consider a route south of the Wakarusa River. A federal judge later rules that the study sufficiently studied the impacts on the wetlands.

October Haskell students and Haskell Board of Regents express disdain for the trafficway's effects on wetlands and spiritual areas just north of the trafficway's route. Regents submit a position paper to the county asking for relief for a list of seven concerns.


April Pressured by the U.S. Justice Department and other agencies, the Douglas County Commission orders a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).

Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has a groundbreaking ceremony for the western nine miles of the trafficway.


October A 900-page draft of the SEIS is released.

November Kansas Natural Resource Council and two Haskell Indian Nations University students sue to force trafficway planners to alter the format of a public hearing scheduled on the SEIS. A federal judge denies the request and the public hearing is attended by 633 people. Trafficway planners record 460 written and oral comments and five petitions.


November The western nine miles of the SLT opens to traffic.

December The Douglas County Commission endorses the 31st Street alignment.

December A Federal Highway Administration official makes public his agency's intent to withdraw from the project, ending most federal environmental oversight and work on the SEIS, if the state and county agree to request no more federal funding for the road.


March-July American Indians and environmentalists sue to force completion of the SEIS. U.S. District Judge Thomas Van Bebber issues an injunction halting work on the project until the impact statement is completed.

July-December The Army Corps of Engineers begins the review process for a Section 404 permit, which is scheduled to run out Dec. 31, focusing largely on noise and visual impacts to the Haskell campus. The Corps suggests it may require additional noise and sound buffering for the 31st Street area, including trees and a noise wall.

It requests that the county do a new noise study for the area to complement those done for the environmental impact statement. The county asks Judge Van Bebber to clarify and/or modify his injunction to allow the study.

December Haskell announces it will do its own noise mitigation study of the 31st Street area.

December Judge Van Bebber denies the request to allow a noise study for the 404 permit. In the meantime, the Corps grants a one-year extension on the permit to allow time for the case and studies to be resolved.


In response to a lawsuit by American Indians and environmentalists, a federal judge halts work on the project until the impact statement is completed.


February Douglas County commissioners vote to spend $137,497 from about $10 million still set aside for the trafficway to complete the SEIS.

May The Haskell Indian Nations University board of regents votes to "totally oppose" the trafficway's construction along 31st Street.

June A mitigation package valued at $5 million and offered to Haskell to gain university support of the trafficway is made public.

October Presentations by county, state and federal officials fail to sway Haskell regents, who again vote to oppose the trafficway's completion along 31st.


March The final SEIS is released to the public. The 5-inch-thick document includes the words "No Build" as the preferred alternative. Observers declare the project is dead.

May Even trafficway proponents are conceding the trafficway is dead.


April KDOT Chief Counsel Mike Rees makes public his efforts to win support for a 32nd Street route for the trafficway that would move the project off Haskell property.

April HNTB Corp. begins work on compiling draft environmental impact statement for completing the trafficway.

October The Lawrence Douglas County Planning Commission agrees to recommend a 32nd Street route for the project.

October Haskell and federal officials issue a letter as the voice of the regents, university community and federal Bureau of Indian Affairs saying 31st Street should be vacated, the wetlands preserved and the trafficway built south of the Wakarusa River.

December: Ramon Powers, the state's historic preservation officer, determines that the Haskell campus and nearby Baker Wetlands would be eligible for listing as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.


April: State archeologists using shovels, and consultants using ground-penetrating radar, fail to turn up evidence of American Indian burial sites in the wetlands.

July: Kansas Department of Transportation formally files application for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the trafficway along a 32nd Street alignment and through the Baker Wetlands. The permit would allow KDOT to fill portions of the wetlands.

Aug. 9: Draft environmental impact statement delivered to Environmental Protection Agency, opening it up to public review.

Aug. 16: Public comment period formally begins. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to accept comments for 45 days 46, actually, because of a weekend before putting together a final environmental impact statement expected to recommend a single alternative for finishing the highway.

Sept. 30: Public comment period ends for draft EIS.

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