It isn't enough to build a road, but if the $1.5 million in federal seed money approved by Congress last week helps settle the legal issues that have stalled the South Lawrence Trafficway project, it will be a great gift to the Lawrence area.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., announced Friday that he had succeeded in adding $1.5 million for SLT planning to a federal transportation bill. He specifically designated the money for use to complete the 32nd Street route that runs along the north edge of the Baker Wetlands and has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Local officials are well aware that the federal money approved last week isn't close to the estimated $110 million it would take to build the road. However, they hope the investment of the money will be enough to flush out and help settle any lawsuits against the trafficway route.
Opponents and proponents of the 32nd Street route have been in a standoff for some time. People who claim the approved route will endanger the wetlands and harm Haskell Indian Nations University have promised to file a lawsuit against the route if the project moves forward. With the threat of the lawsuit hanging over the project, it was all but impossible to gain approval of state and federal money to build the road. Because the threat alone was enough to keep the project from going forward, opponents had little reason to move ahead with court action.
Proponents of the road now hope the $1.5 million approved last week will force the opponents' hand. State and federal officials contend they can adequately defend the 32nd Street route in court. If they are right, the project is ready to move ahead. If they fail, another route, perhaps one that runs south of the Wakarusa River, may have to be considered. Either way, the standoff on this project will be broken.
In a related issue, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore also was able to add $800,000 to the same transportation bill to serve as seed money to extend 31st Street east of Haskell to connect to Kansas Highway 10 near Noria Road. Although this project wouldn't replace the eastern leg of the SLT, it is important to moving local traffic in a growing area of the city and likely could be completed much sooner that the SLT. The extension would provide a much-needed east-west route south of 23rd Street but also will add significantly more traffic on 31st Street.
The South Lawrence Trafficway saga already has spanned several decades, adding tens of millions of dollars to the cost of the project. The need for the connection to K-10 east of Lawrence grows every day. There's a need to move traffic to the south around Lawrence as well as provide a proper connection for the reconstructed U.S. Highway 59 between Lawrence and Ottawa. This project has lingered far too long; perhaps the funding secured by Roberts will settle important issues that will allow the long-awaited SLT to be completed.