Forum maps out county traffic plan

Lawrence and Douglas County will have to prepare for significant amounts of new traffic – especially truck traffic – during the next two decades.

Figuring that fact out has been the easy part of developing Transportation 2030, a new comprehensive plan designed to map out how area residents will travel around the county for years to come.

Planners were asking the public Thursday afternoon for help on the hard part: how to deal with it.

“To me, we should really be placing a lot of emphasis on bicycle commuting, pedestrian commuting, and a lot more use of public transit,” said Laurie Ward, one of about 40 area residents who attended a public meeting at the Lawrence Visitors Center.

Alternative transportation was a heavy theme during the meeting for audience members and staff members.

“We want to make sure that we’re concentrating on moving people, not just vehicles,” said Jim Tobaben, a consultant working with the city and county on the plan.

Tobaben said he already had heard several comments supporting an express commuter bus service connecting Topeka, Lawrence and Kansas City.

There was plenty of talk about traditional roads, though. Tobaben said truck traffic in the area likely will increase significantly. Work is beginning on a new intermodal transportation center in Gardner that is expected to produce 10,000 trucks per day coming and going from the center once it is fully operational in 10 years.

“We think Highway 56 through Baldwin could pick up quite a bit of truck traffic from that facility,” Tobaben said.

That also could lead to increased truck traffic on the new freeway-style U.S. Highway 59. Tobaben said trucks may use U.S. 59 to connect with Interstate 70 in Lawrence.

Several local road projects also drew comments.

Madeleine Schehrer said she attended the meeting because she wanted to know how the city plans to handle additional traffic in growing northwest Lawrence, which is scheduled to be the site of a new Wal-Mart store and other retail development.

Schehrer said she hoped the new plan would include a proposal for extending Peterson Road westward toward the South Lawrence Trafficway to relieve some of the pressure off of Sixth Street.

Bill Vervynck also was interested in the extension of a road. Vervynck said he and his wife are keeping a close eye on possible plans to extend 31st Street eastward toward O’Connell Road. But he said he wanted planners to look at the route carefully. He and his wife live along one of the proposed routes, and do not want to lose their home to the new road.

Vervynck, though, said he could see the need for 31st Street to be extended. But he said city and county leaders need to get the South Lawrence Trafficway completed first.

“If the trafficway isn’t completed, that new road would become a trafficway because people are going to do whatever they have to do to get around 23rd Street,” Vervynck said.

A group of planning commissioners, city commissioners, county commissioners and government department heads will take the public comments and use them to start creating a list of specific projects to be included in the plan.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission needs to have the plan completed by early 2008 to remain eligible for federal transportation funding.

The planners will have one more meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Baldwin High School, 415 Eisenhower.