Up to five businesses might be moved if the latest plan to complete the South Lawrence Trafficway comes to pass. And state officials might eliminate a key local interchange from the project unless city officials show more support for the road.
State highway officials met Friday morning with representatives of approximately 10 businesses located around 31st Street and Haskell Avenue to discuss how completing the trafficway along a 32nd Street route might affect their firms.
Mike Rees, Kansas Department of Transportation chief counsel, said it would be difficult to design the road without some negative consequences for the businesses.
"I know that we'll try to do everything we can to limit the impacts, but it may take four or five businesses anyway," Rees said.
Engineers said it was too early in the design process to identify specific businesses that may have to relocate. Businesses in the area include: Harris Construction Co. Inc.; Quality Electric of Lawrence Inc.; Rental Service Corp.; Dunbar Trucking & Excavating; LRM Industries; and Horizon Systems Inc.
Taking the news well
The meeting was closed to the public, but afterward Bo Harris of Harris Construction said property owners took the news of possible relocations well.
"I know the group as a whole thought the meeting was very positive," Harris said. "We knew the details wouldn't really be available today, but we thought it was important to start the communication process so we can start to think about what impact it might have on us.
"But I know that everyone in the room has been real anxious to see the completion of the trafficway."
Attempts to reach several other business owners in the area were unsuccessful.
The trafficway itself wouldn't necessarily affect the businesses, but current plans call for Haskell Avenue south of 31st Street to be moved approximately one-quarter mile east of its current location, which would put several businesses in its path. The relocation would allow more property to be converted to wetlands as part of a mitigation plan for the nearby Baker Wetlands.
Current plans also call for an interchange connecting Haskell Avenue and the trafficway, but Rees said that may change. The interchange is expected to cost $8 million to $11 million. Rees said it might be cut from the project because it mainly would serve local traffic needs.
Rees said the state's budget crunch had KDOT considering the cut. But he noted Lawrence city commissioners have not specifically asked for an interchange at Haskell Avenue.
KDOT in October asked Lawrence city commissioners to vote on either a 32nd Street route, which would run through the Baker Wetlands, or a route south of the Wakarusa River, which would avoid the wetlands. Three of the five commissioners indicated support for a south-of-the-river option, but the commission declined to officially endorse either plan both of which included an interchange at Haskell Avenue, which turns into County Route 1055.
"With the city's lack of interest, we feel like we could do away with all the interchanges, except for the one on the eastern end at K-10 and the one at Highway 59," Rees said. "That's really all we need to serve the state's needs."
City Commissioner Jim Henry was a key member in the commission's decision. He originally supported a 32nd Street route, but at the October meeting shifted support to a south-of-the-river option.
"I really haven't changed my view from when I said a real bypass should go south of the river, not through people's living rooms," Henry said after learning of KDOT's latest plan. "It doesn't really matter to me if they put an interchange there because I don't think it is an appropriate place for the trafficway."
City Commissioner Marty Kennedy, who supported the 32nd Street plan, said he hoped the commission would consider voicing support for the interchange.
"If there's not an interchange there, I think it will create some real traffic problems," Kennedy said. "I think it is definitely in the city's best interest to have an interchange there."
Rees said KDOT likely will decide about the interchange before a draft of the project's environmental impact statement is released, which could be this spring.
If completed, the trafficway would connect Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence with Interstate Highway 70 northwest of Lawrence. The western nine miles of the road are finished and open, but the eastern third remains only in the planning stage.