Archive for Thursday, September 30, 2004

Key events in the South Lawrence Trafficway’s history

September 30, 2004



Hare and Hare Landscape of Kansas City, Mo., produces a "Major Thoroughfare Plan" for the Lawrence Planning Commission. The resulting map shows an early concept of a "boulevard" looping south around the city. The "southern" route is drawn along 20th Street.


A study by the State Highway Commission and Federal Highway Administration declares the need for relief of traffic congestion on 23rd and Iowa streets. The subject of chapter five of the Lawrence Area Transportation Study-1964 was the possibility of an "outer circumferential route."

Later plans looked at the feasibility of making U.S. Highway 59 (Iowa Street) a circumferential road or entirely relocating the road. Interest in all the ideas eventually faded.


The Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs grants Douglas County a 24-acre easement on Haskell Indian Nations University land for construction of 31st Street.

Years later, engineers would decide to use the easement for the trafficway.


County commissioners Nancy Hiebert, David Hopper and Warren Rhodes announce consideration of a $3.5 million bond issue for a southern trafficway connecting Kansas Highway 10 to the east and the Kansas Turnpike to the northwest.


  • A preliminary environmental impact statement reports the trafficway can be built in such a way as to minimize harm to Baker Wetlands and Elkins Prairie.
  • Agnes T. Frog, created by trafficway opponents to draw attention to wetlands environmental issues, receives almost 30 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate for County Commission.


Leslie W. Blevins Sr. files suit in Douglas County District Court to prevent release of county trafficway money until a vote on the bond issue. After his plea for an injunction is denied at district and appellate courts, Blevins appeals to the Kansas Supreme Court.


December -- The Kansas Supreme Court rules the County Commission exceeded its home rule power in issuing $4 million in bonds. City and county officials are successful in getting the court to reconsider but agree to put the bond issue on a ballot anyway.


July -- The high court reverses its ruling, saying the 1985 bond issue was legal, only in this case. The election is slated for November.

November -- County residents vote 13,679 to 10,815, supporting $4 million in bonds for the trafficway.

November -- Three Douglas County residents sue the county, alleging the explanatory statement on the trafficway ballot unfairly influenced voters to favor the issue.

November -- The Elkins Prairie, an 80-acre patch of virgin prairie, is plowed by its owner, apparently an attempt to force a decision on a county purchase of the property.


Douglas County District Judge Mike Malone dismisses the suit. The residents appeal the decision to the Kansas Appeals Court in early 1991. The appeals court reverses Malone's decision in October 1991, and the suit goes to the Kansas Supreme Court, which rules 6-0 on July 10, 1992, in favor of the county.


October -- A medicine wheel earthwork constructed earlier in the year is dedicated on the Haskell campus.

December -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sends out public notices soliciting comments about plans to mitigate the 31st Street wetlands in the path of the trafficway. Douglas County fails to include Haskell on the mailing list. Four individuals and a few agencies respond by the Jan. 18 deadline. The corps approves the permit without further public hearings.


February -- A citizens group called the Federation to Rescue Our Greenspace files suit in U.S. District Court against the Federal Highway Administration and Environmental Protection Agency for approving the trafficway's environmental impact statement. The listed plaintiffs allege the statement failed to consider a route south of the Wakarusa River. A federal judge later rules that the study sufficiently studied the impacts on the wetlands.

October -- Haskell students and Haskell Board of Regents express disdain for the trafficway's effects on wetlands and spiritual areas just north of the trafficway's route. Regents submit a position paper to the county asking for relief for a list of seven concerns.


April -- Pressured by the U.S. Justice Department and other agencies, the Douglas County Commission orders a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).

August -- Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has a groundbreaking ceremony for the western nine miles of the trafficway.


October -- A 900-page draft of the SEIS is released.

November -- Kansas Natural Resource Council and two Haskell Indian Nations University students sue to force trafficway planners to alter the format of a public hearing scheduled on the SEIS. A federal judge denies the request and the public hearing is attended by 633 people. Trafficway planners record 460 written and oral comments and five petitions.


November -- The western nine miles of the SLT opens to traffic.

December -- The Douglas County Commission endorses the 31st Street alignment.

December -- A Federal Highway Administration official makes public his agency's intent to withdraw from the project, ending most federal environmental oversight and work on the SEIS, if the state and county agree to request no more federal funding for the road.


March-July -- American Indians and environmentalists sue to force completion of the SEIS. U.S. District Judge Thomas Van Bebber issues an injunction halting work on the project until the impact statement is completed.

July-December -- The Army Corps of Engineers begins the review process for a Section 404 permit, which is scheduled to run out Dec. 31, focusing largely on noise and visual impacts to the Haskell campus. The corps suggests it may require additional noise and sound buffering for the 31st Street area, including trees and a noise wall.

It requests that the county do a new noise study for the area to complement those done for the environmental impact statement. The county asks Judge Van Bebber to clarify and/or modify his injunction to allow the study.

December -- Haskell announces it will do its own noise mitigation study of the 31st Street area.

December -- Judge Van Bebber denies the request to allow a noise study for the 404 permit. In the meantime, the corps grants a one-year extension on the permit to allow time for the case and studies to be resolved.


In response to a lawsuit by American Indians and environmentalists, a federal judge halts work on the project until the impact statement is completed.


February -- Douglas County commissioners vote to spend $137,497 from about $10 million still set aside for the trafficway to complete the SEIS.

May -- The Haskell Board of Regents votes to "totally oppose" the trafficway's construction along 31st Street.

June -- A mitigation package valued at $5 million and offered to Haskell to gain university support of the trafficway is made public.

October -- Presentations by county, state and federal officials fail to sway Haskell regents, who again vote to oppose the trafficway's completion along 31st Street.


March -- The final SEIS is released to the public. The 5-inch-thick document includes the words "No Build" as the preferred alternative. Observers declare the project is dead.

May -- Even trafficway proponents are conceding the trafficway is dead.


April -- KDOT Chief Counsel Mike Rees makes public his efforts to win support for a 32nd Street route for the trafficway that would move the project off Haskell property.

October -- The Lawrence Douglas County Planning Commission agrees to recommend a 32nd Street route for the project.

October -- Haskell and federal officials issue a letter as the voice of the regents, university community and federal Bureau of Indian Affairs saying 31st Street should be vacated, the wetlands preserved and the trafficway built south of the Wakarusa River.


January -- Baker University and Kansas Department of Transportation officials tentatively agree to an $8.5 million package that would allow the South Lawrence Trafficway to be built through the university's wetlands.

September -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts a public meeting to solicit input on the SLT route. More than 700 people attend.


January -- Rees announces he is leaving his KDOT post with the arrival of new KDOT Secretary Deb Miller.

August -- KDOT officials say the state has no money to complete the SLT.

December -- The Corps of Engineers says it prefers a 32nd Street alignment for the SLT over the 42nd Street alignment favored by wetlands preservationists. KDOT officials say they won't rule out steps to begin wetland mitigation immediately.


January -- KDOT announces it has stopped buying land for the SLT, in anticipation of a lawsuit in the matter.

March -- The Corps of Engineers issues a permit for KDOT to complete the SLT along the 32nd Street alignment.

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