A majority of city commissioners are turning up the volume in their opposition to a 32nd Street route for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Commissioners on Tuesday are set to approve a letter that tells federal highway officials reviewing the project that the City Commission "objects in the strongest terms" to a route that would run the bypass project through the Baker Wetlands.
"I want the regulators to understand the divisive impact this route would have on the community because of the impacts it would have on Haskell (Indian Nations University) and the wetlands," said City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who is one of three commissioners pushing the Federal Highway Administration to reverse a previous federal decision that approved a route through the wetlands.
That trio of commissioners - which also includes Mike Rundle and David Schauner - have said they want a route considered that would run south of the Wakarusa River.
The trafficway would connect Interstate 70 west of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. The western portion of the road has been completed, but the eastern section has been mired in controversy about whether the road should run through the wetlands area adjacent to Haskell.
Two of the five commissioners - Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Sue Hack - have stated strong support for the 32nd Street route. On Friday, both said they still support that route.
"I still think it makes all the sense in the world," Amyx said of the 32nd Street route, which would provide state funding to also improve 31st Street, Haskell Avenue and Louisiana Street, in addition to creating new wetlands to compensate for the acreage that would be lost to the road.
But Amyx said if the letter won approval Tuesday night, he would do his mayoral duty and sign it.
The letter as it currently is drafted spells out several reasons why city commissioners believe federal regulators should rethink the 32nd Street route. They include:
¢ the environmental and cultural significance of the wetlands. "The Lawrence community considers the wetland a local natural treasure," the letter states.
More on the SLT
- 6News video: City leaders oppose plans for extension of South Lawrence Trafficway
- Retail at Sixth St., trafficway gets OK (05-10-06)
- Developers seek rezonings near Sixth Street, trafficway (05-08-06)
- City commissioners want different route for SLT (04-22-06)
- City agenda
- More about the South Lawrence Trafficway
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¢ the recent approval of a new interchange along the Kansas Turnpike that would be several miles east of Lawrence near Tonganoxie. City commissioners said in the letter that the new interchange could change traffic patterns enough to affect the "need and location" of the eastern leg of the trafficway.
¢ plans for a new sewer treatment plant have opened the area south of the Wakarusa River for growth. Commissioners argue that previous reviews of the project have not adequately accounted for that growth and its transportation needs.
Highberger said the impending growth points to the need to move the trafficway to a location south of the Wakarusa River, because if built on a 32nd Street route the trafficway soon would be surrounded by the city.
"I have a strong level of concern that this road won't meet our long-term transportation needs if it is built on the 32nd Street route," Highberger said. "And I know there won't be the money for two roads."
Supporters of the 32nd Street route, though, took exception to that logic. Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson said the 32nd Street route is needed because it best accommodates today's traffic. The need for a future south-of-the-river road should be discussed after the current needs are met, he said.
"That would be like Kansas City saying it should never have built (Interstate) 435, because at some point they needed (Interstate) 635," Johnson said. "That is just nonsense."
The Federal Highway Administration is studying the trafficway project after Sen. Pat Roberts was successful in garnering $1.5 million in federal funding. But the new federal funding requires a review by the federal agency.
Federal highway leaders, though, have said they would like to adopt the previous study of the project conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That study concluded a 32nd Street route was the best for the project.