The state is preparing to buy land for a new freeway connecting Lawrence and Ottawa.
The $210 million freeway, to be designated U.S. Highway 59, is still on track for opening in 2009, state officials said Wednesday.
But before the first loads of dirt can be moved or the first pylons can be placed, the Kansas Department of Transportation must buy some residential and commercial properties: 27 parcels to be acquired in total, plus another 30 parcels that could be acquired in part.
And some of the properties directly in the freeway route could be under contract as soon as early next year.
"Some people want to get this done as early as possible and, for lack of a better term, get on with their lives," said Joe Blubaugh, a department spokesman.
Wednesday morning in Lawrence, Blubaugh met with Douglas County commissioners and others interested in the project's progress.
A key component of the discussion focused on land acquisition.
About two-thirds of the 27 properties considered directly in the freeway's path -- homes and businesses slated for "total takings" -- are located in Douglas County, Blubaugh said. Owners of those properties are being offered chances to sell their land to the department as early as next year, so that they can avoid the often-lengthy process of formal right-of-way acquisition that isn't expected to start until 2006.
Department officials already have met with candidates for the early program, and formal offers are expected soon after Jan. 1, said Jim Brewer, who is overseeing the project for the department's bureau of design.
"All of this is totally voluntary on their part," Brewer said. "We may go through the whole process of appraisal, and visiting with them, and inspection of the property and all that activity and make an offer, and they may say, 'Well, I'm not interested' -- in which case the right-of-way acquisition will be deferred until the normal point in our schedule."
Another 30 properties, including 21 in Douglas County, are likely to be affected by the project enough that the state will have to buy at least part of the parcels.
Owners of those properties may be able to have their structures -- homes, businesses, outbuildings or airplane hangars -- relocated elsewhere on their land, Brewer said.
Department representatives are setting up meetings with those property owners to discuss possibilities. Meetings with Douglas County property owners will be Oct. 30, while discussions with those affected in Franklin County will be Nov. 6.
The freeway project remains on target for hiring a contractor in 2007 and being ready for traffic in 2009, Brewer said. During the coming year, department engineers intend to work with county officials to decide which secondary roads should either stop at U.S. 59 or be allowed to cross unimpeded, either above or below the freeway.
Among the state's current plans are to have crossings at North 1, North 100 and North 200 roads, said Keith Browning, the county's engineer and director of public works. But state officials haven't ruled out approving a crossing for North 150 Road, which is used by the area's residents and farmers.