Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2007

Planning commissioner offers idea for SLT compromise

October 11, 2007


SLT decision must be made soon

Twenty years of planning - but nothing to show for it. Now, the South Lawrence Trafficway gets one more chance at compromise. Enlarge video

One last chance for compromise.

When it comes to building the final leg of the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway, Grant Eichhorn - chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission - has an idea he hopes would work.

Eichhorn said Wednesday that he thinks there's still a chance to reach a deal with Haskell Indian Nations University that would keep the SLT out of a wetlands area the university considers sacred.

The idea: Expand the number of lanes on 31st Street, in exchange for moving the proposed trafficway south of the Wakarusa River.

"I'm trying to find some way to help a large part of our community feel good about moving forward on this project," Eichhorn said.

But any deal will have to happen fast.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is creating a comprehensive transportation plan for the county. It must be finished by the end of the year to meet federal guidelines, Eichhorn said. He said a compromise with Haskell would be needed before the plan is completed.

A key part of the deal has to include securing additional right of way to expand the number of lanes on 31st Street, Eichhorn said. If the existing 31st Street can't be widened - probably to at least four lanes - Eichhorn said he would continue to support the current proposal for the trafficway, called the 32nd Street route. That proposal calls for constructing the trafficway through Baker Wetlands and moving 31st Street south of the existing 31st Street. The current 31st Street would be abandoned.

Funding at stake

The Planning Commission that Eichhorn chairs ultimately could play an important role in the future route of the SLT.

That's because in order for the project to be eligible to receive any federal funding, a specific route must be included on the Transportation 2030 plan that the planning commission is developing. In other words, if the planning commission doesn't include the wetlands route in the Transportation 2030 plan, it wouldn't be eligible for federal funding.

By federal law, the Planning Commission - not the County Commission or City Commission - has final authority in creating the Transportation 2030 plan.

Several supporters of the 32nd Street route option criticized Eichhorn's proposed deal Wednesday.

"It is so far off the chart, it hardly deserves a comment," Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson said.

Johnson said there has been no indication that Haskell and the Bureau of Indian Affairs - which controls the property - is willing to give right of way to widen 31st Street.

Haskell spokesman Charlie Hawkins said the university would have to hear more about the idea before commenting.

Mayor Sue Hack said even if Haskell did agree to an expanded 31st Street, she highly doubts the Kansas Department of Transportation would remain involved in the trafficway project. She said KDOT has made it clear it won't fund a trafficway built south of the river.

"They'll take their money and spend it somewhere else in the state," Hack said.

But the biggest problem, Hack said, is that no formal planning has been done for a route south of the Wakarusa. She said such a route couldn't be completed in time to help the city deal with increased traffic loads expected to come when U.S. Highway 59 is widened to four lanes.

Lawsuits expected

Eichhorn, though, said he suspects that would be the case with a 32nd Street route as well, because environmentalists and other will challenge it in court, saying the road would damage the wetlands' environmental and cultural significance.

Michael Caron, executive director of the Save the Wakarusa Wetlands Organization, said he can promise a lawsuit.

"Either something like this is seriously put on the table and people come intending to find a resolution, or we end up with a 32nd Street federal lawsuit that will drag this thing on for many, many years," Caron said.

Caron has been promoting a compromise similar to Eichhorn's for several months. He said he thinks Haskell could be convinced to live with a wider 31st Street, if the road is built in the right way.

That would include using special pavement that reduces tire noise, low speed limits, a prohibition of heavy truck traffic, and plenty of "toad tunnels" and an archway bridge that would allow both pedestrians and wildlife to safely cross the road. Special American Indian artwork along the route and a parking area and entrance for the wetlands also should be included.

He said the 1-mile stretch of road could become a federal demonstration project on how roads and wetlands can co-exist.

"There are ways that I could see this getting done, but it won't be done by putting the screws to Haskell to get them to give up more land," Caron said.


Oracle_of_Rhode 10 years, 6 months ago

Leave the wetlands alone! Paving the most bio-diverse nature in the county is an asinine assault upon reason and culture.

kujayhawk7476 10 years, 6 months ago

The eastern leg of the SLT should have been completed 12 years ago. All the hand-wringing about this supposed wetlands (that are dry more often than wet) and whether HINU will be upset (who cares?) has made Lawrence a laughing stock. Your traffic patterns are riciculous, your traffic control systems are non-sensical and the congestion on 23rd street only gets worse as politicians fret over some whiner or complainer.

Come on Lawrence, get tough and build the road NOW, before your reputation gets worse. Say, didn't I read the population of Lawrence isn't growing as fast as it had been? Wonder why!

nucleardude 10 years, 6 months ago

My same comments as the other story.

It is sad that Haskell representatives and temporary residents (students) have been responsible for the delay of another important part of the growth of Lawrence for 15+ years. "The wetlands are sacred grounds"; give me a break. It is swampland that will be dramatically increased in size with some fabulous features to improve the use of the area. If those of you, who are ignorant of the promise of the future of the wetlands, would just travel the SLT. If you would observe, with an open mind, the wetlands that have sprung up on there own along the course of the current trafficway. The SLT has not destroyed the wetlands. The wildlife along the trafficway has not been affected. It is time to move on. Haskell representatives have already cost the city and county millions of dollars. Even the excuses of the medicine wheel and worship area were developed after the SLT project was started. I don't doubt years ago the worship areas existed, but the current Haskell population began using the area again for the wrong reasons. I would be curious to know over the years how many indigenous peoples actually use the area and the wetlands on a daily basis. Then compare that to the impact on the county by continued delays on the 32nd street trafficway. It is no wonder Haskell doesn't get the support you would expect in a community such as Lawrence. They continue feeling like they are owed something from hundreds of years ago that them and none of us had anything to do with. Get over Columbus and get over the SLT. You have hurt the community for far too long. I only hope the city and county representatives do not worry about hurting your feelings and do what is right for the community as a whole. Build the SLT on the 32nd street alignment and make good on the promise of expanded wetlands and a visitor center.

Build the road to the advantage of all of Douglas County and not to the pleading cries of a vocal small opposition group who consists of many who will not be living here in four years. The wetlands will survive and will be bigger and better than ever.

Thats_messed_up 10 years, 6 months ago

"That would include using special pavement that reduces tire noise, low speed limits, a prohibition of heavy truck traffic, and plenty of "toad tunnels" and an archway bridge that would allow both pedestrians and wildlife to safely cross the road. Special American Indian artwork along the route and a parking area and entrance for the wetlands also should be included"


bearded_gnome 10 years, 6 months ago

do we really want more swamp next to our town???

swamp=mosquitos=disease=sick people! don't give me that ecowacko jumbo mumble about "its in balance..." bs! swamps breed mosquitos. whaddya think mosquitos do??? make american indian art???

build the 32nd route. expanding 31st there really wouldn't be good for the south end of haskell no matter what kinda whizbang pavement you use.

Eric Beightel 10 years, 6 months ago

The EIS is complete, the Corps has issued its ROD, there is absolutely no reason why this can't be built. Assuming that the USACE did everything they were supposed to do during the EIS (which I'm sure they did after the previous fiasco) there is very little for any opposition to stand on. The impacts to the areas were identified and mitigation was designed - end of story. NEPA does not require that you choose the most environmentally friendly alternative, it only requires that you document how you came to your decision. USACE has done that, and they have chosen the 32nd Street alignment as their preferred alternative.

I love the environment; I recycle, contribute to conservation groups, enjoy hikes and walks on the beach, etc. However, practicality and reality have to win out, eventually. The 32nd Street alignment will result in an increase in wetland areas and an education center! Constructed wetlands are effective! Assuming KDOT contracts to construct the wetlands before filling the current ones, I see absolutely no problem with this alternative. The existing wetlands do not provide signifant flood control, the do not provide significant water quality control that is specific to their current location, they do provide essential habitat to a variety of aquatic plants, animals and insects but a new, larger wetland area would provide those same benefits - only better!

There is absolutely no reason for this not be constructed. Frivilous lawsuits will only delay the inevitable, they will not win as long as no procedure or law has been broken. Tying this project up in court just long enough for the funding to be abandoned is petty politics that will only result in harm to the entire community.

Just build it.

Eric Beightel 10 years, 6 months ago

Forgive my earlier rant - I got ahead of myself. The Corps issued their ROD on the Individual Section 404 Permit for the project but did identify the 32nd street alignment as their preferred alternative.

FHWA is currently reviewing their options and has not stated what alignment they prefer but with every agency outside of the city/county endorsing 32nd street, it would seem logical that they too would endorse said alignment.

kcwarpony 10 years, 6 months ago

"It is sad that Haskell representatives and temporary residents (students) have been responsible for the delay of another important part of the growth of Lawrence for 15+ years."

That's right, blame everything on Haskell. Never mind the environmental groups who oppose the 32nd street route along with the National Congress of American Indians, National Native American Church Association, and about 47 federally recognized Indian tribes...along with the fact that Rep. Dennis Moore did not give his support and endorsement to Sen. Pat Roberts efforts to get the SLT funding last year, or the fact that KU officials seem reluctant to give their support, blame it all on Haskell and the current students. You know, a lot of students come to Haskell and end up staying and making Lawrence their home. My father came in the late 1940's and stayed and so did a lot of his classmates. You've got second and third generations running around here...and we don't want the SLT going through and wetlands either!

Eric Beightel 10 years, 6 months ago

While there may be many entities that do not support the preferred alignment, there is not a whole lot that they can do about it - those that own the land ultimately will make that decision (County/City/Baker). People can oppose the idea all they want but what legal standing do they have to file suit?

Mike Ford 10 years, 6 months ago

  1. land claim lawsuit over the violation of the federal indian schools surplus lands act of 1962, voiding the land transfer to Baker University. How does Baker receive 11 times the legal amount perscribed in the land transfer bill known as title 25, chapter 7, section 293a, which is 50 acres at ONE TIME? a lot of dirty laundry would be exposed in a legal case. Does Baker still sound like the future legal owners of this area? I don't think so.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 6 months ago

Commissioner Bob Johnson noted publicly that a lawsuit would be filed if another route was decided upon maybe 18 months - two years ago. The city commission room was filled to capacity for discussing this very matter.

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