Archive for Monday, February 10, 2003

Officials map out 31st Street upgrades

Study says work needed regardless of trafficway

February 10, 2003


If Lawrence and Douglas County officials want to drive a new four-lane road through the middle of Al Pendleton's soybean field southeast of Lawrence, the farmer has a few choice words for them: Bring it on.

"There's quite a bit of ground available for development," said Pendleton, who owns 160 acres directly east of 31st Street and Noria Road. "They can buy some of my land, or they can condemn it if they need to. I would not object.

"I'm sure it's worth more for housing than it is for farming. It could be an industrial property, too. Anything to make an east-west artery would be great."

Plans to fulfill Pendleton's transportation hopes are outlined in a new study compiled for Lawrence and Douglas County commissioners, who are looking for ways to upgrade and possibly extend 31st Street in hopes of handling traffic loads that are expected to more than double during the next two decades.

Among the suggestions, as outlined in the $95,000 31st Street corridor study compiled by TranSystems Corp.:

l Install traffic signals at the intersections of 31st Street with Louisiana Street and Haskell Avenue. The signals would cost $50,000 at each location and ease the choke on traffic that can back up dozens of cars at the intersections during evening rush hour. Additional turn lanes could be added a couple of years later for a total of $375,000.

l Upgrade and extend 31st Street itself, from Iowa Street east to Douglas County Road 1057 between Lawrence and Eudora. Putting in a four-lane road -- by widening existing sections and building new ones -- would cost an estimated $29.4 million, not including engineering plans or land purchases.

And, according to the study, the work will be necessary no matter what happens with the proposed completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the controversial highway project expected to cost $110.2 million to connect Iowa Street at the southern edge of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 near Noria Road.

'Inevitable' improvements

That's because even with the trafficway in place, traffic on 31st Street is expected to double by 2025, the study said. About 14,000 vehicles a day now use the road between Iowa and Haskell, a number expected to hit about 30,000 as the area develops.

Without a trafficway, the daily load would accelerate to about 42,000 vehicles.

"I don't think it will be acceptable at all to not do any further improvements to 31st Street," said Keith Browning, county engineer and director of public works. "I think it's just inevitable. It's got to happen, SLT or not. It's got to happen."

But such heavy construction would face a number of potential roadblocks, both financial and environmental.

On the financial side, both city and county governments already are struggling to cut their budgets to account for dwindling state revenues. Browning cut $150,000 from his roads budget this year to fill his part of the financial hole, and commissioners already put off plans for a $540,000 maintenance and storage building at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Finding $475,000 -- much less $30 million -- will be a challenge, said Bob Johnson, chairman of the county commission. Commissioners hope to get together with city commissioners sometime in the next month or so to discuss options.

"We don't have to do all this stuff right away, but we need to look at the scope of the entire project when we're planning," Johnson said. "This gives us a blueprint of what we should do."

Projections for number of vehicles traveling daily in 2025 on sections of 31st Street, depending on whether the proposed completion of South Lawrence Trafficway is built:¢ Ousdahl Road to Louisiana Street: 35,400 with trafficway, 42,300 without. Current daily load: 13,800.¢ Louisiana to HaskellAvenue: 25,000 with trafficway, 41,200 without. Current: 14,600.¢ Haskell to O'Connell Road: 13,900 with trafficway, 23,100 without. Current: None.¢ O'Connell to Noria Road: 5,300 with trafficway, 16,000 without. Current: 200.¢ Noria to County Road 1057: 1,000 with trafficway, 11,900 without. Current: None.

Permit questions

The study also outlines environmental issues. As the ongoing trafficway project has shown, building a road through wetlands requires adherence with federal environmental laws and receipt of necessary permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Whether upgrading 31st Street would require detailed permits -- the study draws no conclusions on that point -- could play a role in deciding what work, if any, gets done, Johnson said.

"We can't afford to go through everything the corps has had to go through," Johnson said, referring to the corps' consideration of a permit to fill part of the Baker Wetlands for the trafficway. "We simply can't afford to do that. We'll have to be restricted to what we can do without infringing on those areas that might require a permit."

James Houghton knows 31st Street likely won't be extended any time soon, but he's still eager for the road to come.

Investing in future

Houghton owns 80 acres along the north side of what would be 31st Street, were it to connect to County Road 1057. He bought the property six or seven years ago for $80,000, a price he sees jumping as its access improves to Lawrence and nearby Kansas Highway 10.

An extended 31st Street could be the traffic artery that pumps development life into his fields of corn and soybeans.

"It will be commercial, eventually," said Houghton, who oversees development of schools for the fast-growing Olathe school district. "It will be zoned, and it will be like all the other areas -- you can look down the K-10 corridor between DeSoto and Olathe, and every one of those properties has a major project on it. This area will have a major project on it.

"Whether it's five years or 20 years or 50 years, eventually it will happen."

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