South Lawrence Trafficway
- Sound Off: Has the Federal Highway Administration ever made a decision about whether to allow the South Lawrence Trafficway to be built through the Baker Wetlands? (08-30-07)
- Guidelines may mean more frontage roads (06-12-07)
- Survey: Lawrence residents displeased with transportation (05-05-07)
- City to explore 31st St. extension (04-25-07)
The federal government is signing on as a partner in the effort to complete the South Lawrence Trafficway - but what that involvement means is still unclear.
Douglas County commissioners on Monday approved adding the Federal Highway Administration as partner to a four-year-old agreement to mitigate the impact of the SLT's completion. But nobody from the agency was at Monday's meeting, and agency officials were said to be unavailable for comment until Wednesday.
That left commissioners and observers unsure of the agency's intentions.
"I think logically that means they're going to support the 32nd Street alignment," said Commissioner Bob Johnson, who voted in favor of the partnership. "But I don't think that I could say that."
FHWA conducted hearings in late 2006 to determine whether the long-debated trafficway should be completed north - along a controversial 32nd Street alignment through the Baker Wetlands - or south of the Wakarusa River along Lawrence's southern city limits. The study was intended to determine the environmental and historical impacts of each route.
The agency's final report was originally expected in July; officials said in late August it might be released as late as October.
Monday's request from FHWA, however, raised questions about whether the agency was officially endorsing the 32nd Street alignment. The 2003 compact - which was originally signed by several entities, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baker University, the Kansas State Historical Preservation officer and the Kansas Department of Transportation - outlines a mitigation plan to offset damage to the wetlands. One paragraph in the amendment states that FHWA intends to adopt the Corps of Engineers' existing SLT environmental impact statement, which endorses the 32nd Street route.
FHWA needed to sign the agreement because federal funds are involved with the project that were not available at the time of the original agreement. In 2005, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., secured $1.5 million to start the project in a federal transportation bill approved by Congress.
Johnson was joined by Commissioner Jere McElhaney in voting for approval, but Commissioner Charles Jones voted against it. Jones opposed the original agreement in 2003. Jones has said he opposes the 32nd Street route in the SLT proposal.
Bev Worster, a rural Lawrence opponent of the 32nd Street route, asked commissioners to delay adding the agency to the agreement because FHWA has not informed the public of its decision.
"Now, out of the blue, they're going to indicate that (decision) by getting their name on the agreement that the Corps actually negotiated," Worster said in a letter to commissioners.
In a letter to the county, Worster also said the county had not adequately informed the public of its plans to discuss the agreement. The commission's agenda was made public Friday, but the SLT item contained no reference to the trafficway - instead saying the commission would discuss a "letter from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requesting signature on first amendment to Memorandum of Agreement."
"Because this issue is highly controversial, I feel that it behooves us all to 'go the extra mile' to ensure complete transparency so that the public feels that all the agencies have sincerely worked for a fair and open process," Worster wrote in her letter, which was echoed by several speakers at Monday's meeting.
Commissioners asked County Administrator Craig Weinaug to put more detailed information on the county's Web site concerning key issues to be discussed at the meetings.