City commissioners said no thanks to a possible $700,000 state grant to help build a center turn lane on an accident-prone portion of Iowa Street after several neighbors expressed concern about the project.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting decided on a 4-1 vote not to ask the Kansas Department of Transportation to allow the city to use a previously awarded $700,000 grant to build a turn lane on Iowa Street from Harvard Road to University Drive.
Commissioners sided with several neighbors who live between Iowa Street and the Kansas University campus who expressed concerns that the turn lane would make it easier for people to cut through the neighborhood to get to KU. Neighbors said the city needs to work with KU to come up with a comprehensive solution to move traffic in and out of KU.
"We're doing a knee-jerk response here," said Bill Skepnek, who lives on University Drive. "The staff of the city should get together with the staff of KU and really deal with the root of the problem."
Commissioners, though, also heard from several neighbors who said they supported the project. Faye Watson, who lives on Crescent Road, said the stretch of Iowa Street was badly in need of safety improvements. The stretch of road has had 48 accidents in the last two years, according to city statistics.
"This is an issue that has to be addressed," Watson said. "We just can't put it off any longer. Having a continuous turn lane on that street is vital."
Commissioners agreed a turn lane may be necessary on the street, but said they did not want to move forward on the project until a comprehensive plan could be developed that would show what other projects would be needed to address concerns about cut-through traffic in the neighborhood. Some examples mentioned were improvements to the 15th and Iowa streets intersection and improvements to Ninth Street.
But by waiting until a plan can be completed, the city likely will not be able to use the $700,000 state grant, said Chuck Soules, the city's public works director. He said the state had a deadline of next week to hear from the city on whether it wanted to use the state safety grant for the project.
The state had said in February that Lawrence qualified for $700,000 in safety grant funding. It originally had recommended the grant money be used to build a roundabout at 19th Street and Naismith Drive, a roundabout near the Sixth and Iowa streets area, or realign the intersection of Ninth Street and Avalon Road.
City officials had asked the state to consider allowing the city to use the $700,000 in grant money for the Iowa Street turn lane project because the three recommended projects were deemed difficult and likely controversial. KDOT leaders said they would consider allowing the city to use the grant money for the Iowa Street project, if city commissioners first endorsed the project.
Mayor Mike Amyx was the lone commissioner who voted to have the state consider the Iowa Street turn lane project. He said because construction work couldn't begin on the project until 2009, the city had enough time to develop a comprehensive plan for the area and still take advantage of the grant money. The total cost of the project was expected to be about $1.2 million.