Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

Trafficway’s companion now a lost highway

Eastern Parkway was supposed to link downtown with K-10

August 19, 2002


When voters entered their polling booths a dozen years ago, the two highway projects they were voting to help pay for stood on equal footing.

Not anymore.

In November 1990, Lawrence voters agreed to authorize the city to issue $4 million in bonds to begin preliminary planning for an Eastern Parkway. The vote was 9,597 in favor to 9,050 against.Douglas County voters also approved issuing $4 million in bonds to support preliminary planning for the South Lawrence Trafficway. That vote was 13,679 to 10,815.

This month, as proponents of the South Lawrence Trafficway push for a decision about where to spend as much as $128.5 million to complete the embattled road, its sister project on that 1990 referendum remains stuck in neutral.

Actually, it's not even on the map anymore.

"The Eastern Parkway is dead," said Terese Gorman, city engineer.

The parkway project a $14.7 million plan to build a three-mile, two-lane highway connecting downtown Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 near the East Hills Business Park never managed to garner enough public support to move beyond the initial planning phase, despite having voter approval to spend $4 million to get things moving.

Today, only a distant relative of the project survives. And even that project known as the "Eastern Connection and East River Bridge," connecting K-10 and U.S. Highway 24-40 along the eastern edge of town clings to a dim prognosis, because state officials have rejected picking up its estimated $39.95 million cost through at least 2009.

Was top priority then

Either way, city officials aren't spending much time worrying about what 10 years ago rated among the Lawrence City Commission's top priorities, central to the long-term survival of downtown and vital to the efficient flow of traffic.

"It's nowhere," said Bill Ahrens, the city's transportation planner.

Back in 1997 after facing several years of intense opposition from vocal opponents of the project, especially residents of the East Lawrence neighborhood city officials terminated all remaining contracts on the parkway project. They decided against spending $74,000 to complete a $102,000 draft environmental impact statement, because commissioners simply had "no interest" in continuing, City Manager Mike Wildgen said at the time.

In 1999, city officials shifted gears and submitted an 11-page request to the Kansas Department of Transportation, seeking to get the connection-and-bridge project included in the state's 10-year, $1.8 billion highway plan.

But shifting the highway out of the neighborhood and beyond the eastern edge of town wasn't enough to close the sale.

"It didn't make the cut," said Ahrens, who spent 14 years at KDOT, where he served as urban planning manager. "And it was a one-shot deal. If it's ever funded, it won't be before 2009."

Past or future?

Mike Rees, KDOT's chief counsel, said that the South Lawrence Trafficway rightfully remained high on the list of the community's transportation needs for Lawrence, Douglas County and the region. He said he hoped to have a final route picked by the end of this year for completing the road whose first half cost $45 million to build.

But that doesn't mean a highway connection east of town should get lost, Rees said. With a trafficway in place, an eastern connection would complete a traffic loop around Lawrence and help drive the economic-development engine in northeast Kansas.

"Anything along the K-10 corridor is going to do well," Rees said, describing KDOT's future calls for highway proposals. "Where are the jobs going to be? Where are the opportunities going to be? Where are the high-tech jobs going to be? They're going to tend to be on the K-10 corridor."

As envisioned in the city's 1999 application, the design of a new eastern bypass calls for:

A two-lane road five miles long at the eastern edge of town, generally along what today is East 1600 Road.

New bridges over railroad tracks and the Kansas River. It would use an existing underpass beneath the Kansas Turnpike.

Enough right-of-way to accommodate four lanes, or about 170 acres. Estimated land cost: $1.5 million at $7,000 per acre, plus contingencies.

Intersections at K-10, 19th Street, 15th Street and U.S. 24-40.

But such details aren't about to be put into action anytime soon, said David Corliss, assistant city manager. The state is more concerned about finishing the trafficway, and the city wants to focus on widening and rebuilding U.S. Highway 40 between the trafficway and Wakarusa Drive.

The eastern connection remains far on the back burner.

"It's not an active project at this time," he said. "It's not in our budget plans for an improvement. It has never made any state highway-funding list. It is not being actively pursued.

"This is a project that has made our request list but hasn't gone any further."

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