It would be an odd scene.
Picture a day when vehicles come through downtown Lawrence and try to cross the Kansas River, but instead are greeted by a large iron pipe. It's stretched across roads and disrupts traffic. And portions of the Kaw River bridge are closed because the pipe is on top of it as well.
It is just one bad day away from happening.
That's because of all the miles of water line in the city, only one feeds treated water into North Lawrence. If it breaks badly, city crews would be scrambling to get water to North Lawrence residents by laying an above-ground, temporary water pipe.
"It would be a real bad deal," said Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Neighborhood Association.
City leaders agree.
That's in part why they're moving forward with an $18.6 million project to correct that issue and several others related to the city's water system.
Twofold water project
Engineers in the city's utility department are beginning to design the massive pipe-laying project that is scheduled to start construction in 2008 and end in 2010. Its purpose will be twofold: To provide a second supply of water to North Lawrence, and to provide additional water to southeast Lawrence that would accommodate expected development.
That means city leaders will be going north to ultimately go south. They're fine with that, in part, because it will spare many Lawrence neighborhoods from what certainly would be a major mess.
Basically think of it this way: Remember the downtown waterline project and all the equipment and mess that went along with it. Now, imagine that project stretching from the city's Kaw Water Treatment Plant at Second and Indiana streets all the way to 23rd Street and O'Connell Road.
It would have torn up major parts of Tennessee Street, 13th Street, and affected hundreds of residents' yards.
"I would hate to hold the neighborhood meetings that would have to be held for that project," City Commissioner Mike Amyx said.
Urban density missed
Evidently, so would city engineers. They started thinking outside the box, or more aptly, outside the city limits. What they came up with was a circuitous route that gets water to North Lawrence and southeast Lawrence as part of one project, when previously it was going to take two.
All it will take is about 6 miles of pipe.
Here's the new route: Go north from the city's water plant, through Burcham Park; cross the Kansas River near the point the Kansas Turnpike crosses the Kaw; run a water line along the northern edge of North Lawrence; then start heading south along the eastern edge of North Lawrence; cross the Kaw again near the point North Ninth Street becomes a dead end at the river. The line then would go east of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds and through the Farmland Industries property, ending near 23rd Street and O'Connell Road.
The result will be that the construction work will miss dense neighborhoods.
"There are some driveways and homes along the route, but it is not the urban densities of trying to get across downtown and the East Lawrence area," said Philip Ciesielski, the city's assistant director of utilities. "It is skirting more of the rural development type of density on the periphery of North Lawrence."
Boyle said he thinks most North Lawrence residents will be happy with the project.
"People on the north end of North Lawrence, their water pressure is terribly low," Boyle said. "That really concerns us, especially with fire hydrants."
Whether the new route will treat ratepayers kindly is still a question.
The project's cost is being factored into water rates for 2008 and beyond. Water rates for 2008 will increase by about 5 percent. Ed Mullins, the city's director of finance, said preliminary plans for 2009 and 2010 are projecting water rate increases in the 5 percent to 6 percent range, but he said that's subject to change as more evaluation is done.
City leaders will be paying a bit of a premium for the new route. Ciesielski said the northern route will cost about 5 percent more - or about $900,000 - than the crosstown route. But leaders in City Hall seemed to think it would be worth it.
"I don't want to minimize the inconvenience factor," Corliss said of the crosstown route. "It would be like the downtown waterline project, except it would be for numerous, numerous blocks."
There may be only one leader in City Hall who was rooting for the crosstown route: Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works.
"Chuck kind of liked it because we would be repaving lots of streets," Corliss said.