Sixth Street overhaul gears up

Road expansion expected to pave the way for development

Lawrence’s great leap westward is moving ahead.

Initial work has begun on a two-year project to expand Sixth Street between Folks Road and the South Lawrence Trafficway — an effort that will open the corridor west of Wakarusa Drive to new development.

“Once some of that area is opened up … there will be some development out there,” City Manager Mike Wildgen said Monday. “This has been seen as an area of growth for the city.”

The project has been in the works for years, with City Hall annexing nearly 700 acres of land along Sixth Street in 2001 in order to finance its share of the work. Crews will add a center turn lane to Sixth Street and rebuild what has been a rural highway into a city-standard street, with curbs, gutters, lights, pedestrian/bike paths, raised medians and other features.

KDOT is picking up 80 percent of the construction costs between Wakarusa Drive and the SLT; the city paid the full engineering costs for the project, 20 percent of the construction costs west of Wakarusa Drive and all the construction costs between Folks Road and Champion Lane.

KDOT is paying roughly $6.08 million. City Hall’s tab will be $6.3 million.

Work started this month, with KDOT clearing trees and relocating utilities in the new roadway’s path while the city began putting down waterlines to service development expected in the area.

“The water line is going in,” Chuck Soules, the city’s public works director, said. “If you drive out there, there’s big plates across the road. And they’ve done a lot of cutting out there, I’ve noticed.”

Clear-cutting and the moving of utility poles is under way on Sixth Street west of Wakarusa Drive, where a construction project will widen the road. This view looking east from near St. Margaret's Episcopal Church shows clearcut areas on the north side of Sixth Street.

In September, crews will build a temporary road south of the existing street to carry the 15,000 vehicles a day that use Sixth Street between Wakarusa and the SLT.

“We’ll carry traffic through the project,” said Earl Bosak, the Osage City-based engineer for the KDOT district that includes Douglas County. “There will be access to businesses and homes along the road.”

Drivers may be inconvenienced, Soules said.

“It’s going to be a lot slower speed,” he said. “It’s a detour-type thing.”

First up on the development list: a nearly 100-acre development on the southeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway will include room for 100 single-family homes and 65 townhouses, as well as 32 acres for a retail shopping center.

D.D. Schaake, who has lived on the north side of Sixth Street for 15 years, said he expects development will eventually replace the beanfield next to his home.

“I’m in the habit of watching deer and turkey and all kinds of interesting things there,” Schaake said Monday. “I’ll miss it when there’s a parking lot full of cars over there.”

Bill Naff, who lives at 5275 W. Sixth St., looks over some of his land that will be used by the city for the widening of Sixth Street from the South Lawrence Trafficway to Folks Road in this file photo. More than 80 trees were removed from Naff's land as part of the construction.

Bill Naff, who has lived nearby for 20 years, also lamented the urbanization of his once-bucolic neighborhood. He’ll miss the privacy, he said.

“We’re not real happy campers, but we can’t stop the progress, I guess,” he said. “They’ve been invading us out here for several years. Now we’re in the city and surrounded.”

City officials say the project will take 18 months to two years to complete.