Archive for Saturday, April 26, 2008

Final federal go-ahead on SLT expected this spring

April 26, 2008

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The Baker Wetlands are full of water from heavy rainfall in late March. Thirty-first Street borders the area to the right. Federal regulators are still working on the last pieces of paperwork needed to give final approval of a controversial South Lawrence Trafficway route that would run through the area.

The Baker Wetlands are full of water from heavy rainfall in late March. Thirty-first Street borders the area to the right. Federal regulators are still working on the last pieces of paperwork needed to give final approval of a controversial South Lawrence Trafficway route that would run through the area.

It is an exercise in careful penmanship.

Federal regulators are still working on the last pieces of paperwork needed to give final approval of a controversial South Lawrence Trafficway route that would run through the Baker Wetlands.

"We're looking for every 't' crossed and every 'i' dotted before we release the document," Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration, said of the necessary paperwork to give federal approval to the trafficway project. "Our approval essentially is an endorsement that everything was done by the book and no corners were cut."

The document, called a Record of Decision, originally was expected in December or January, but Hecox said the department is now hoping for a late-spring release.

But the department already has foreshadowed what the document will say. In November, federal highway officials approved two key documents further clearing the way for the bypass project to be built along a route known as 32nd Street. The route would be just south of the existing 31st Street and would run the trafficway through the Baker Wetlands.

The November approval brought praise from trafficway supporters, and promises of a lengthy legal battle from environmentalists and Native Americans who have long opposed a route through the wetlands.

"It is just another giant step toward the completion of the trafficway," Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson said of the November approvals.

Bob Eye, a Lawrence resident and environmental attorney, said the November approvals - which he said were the result of an "intellectually dishonest process" - would mark the beginning point of a new fight.

"I can tell you that the environmental community and the Haskell community are as committed as ever to protecting the wetlands and not losing one square inch of the wetlands to highway construction," Eye said.

But the real legal wrangling isn't expected until the Record of Decision is released. That is when the project officially becomes eligible for federal funding.

Besides the expected legal fight, funding is the other major issue facing the road project. It is expected to take about $150 million to complete the project. Currently, that money is not in the state's comprehensive transportation plan. Supporters of the road, however, have argued that once the necessary approvals are granted that the project will have a good chance of being included in the state's next comprehensive transportation program, which legislators are expected to debate in the next five years.

During the November approval process, federal regulators said they found the wetlands route to be better than an alternative route that would have run the trafficway south of the Wakarusa River. Some of the reasons cited:

¢ The wetlands route does the best job of routing regional traffic around the city and taking some local traffic off streets such as 23rd and 31st streets and Haskell Avenue.

¢ Traffic on Haskell Avenue would increase significantly if the road is built south of the Wakarusa River.

¢ The wetlands route actually would provide a net benefit to the wetlands area. That's because state transportation leaders already have committed to do a significant mitigation project if the road is built through the wetlands.

The package includes moving Haskell Avenue east and Louisiana Street west from their current locations to provide a natural buffer area for the wetlands. The buffer area would be converted into manmade wetlands. The buffer area also would house a 10,000-square-foot wetland and educational center run by Baker University. Baker also would be provided an annuity designed to fund future maintenance of the wetlands. The project also includes noise walls to shelter the wetlands from the road.

Opponents, though, have been unimpressed. Michael Caron, executive director of Save the Wakarusa Wetlands Organization, said the mitigation package won't make up for having multiple lanes of traffic run through the environmentally sensitive area.

"There will still be some life left in the wetlands, but it will be the equivalent of pigeons, rats and cockroaches that survive any disaster," Caron said.

Comments

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 4 months ago

"The only thing I have seen around the wetlands is a stuck in the mud deer, some birds and lots of mosquitoes. ."Try getting out of your car sometime-- although it's obvious the only view you care about is the one from your car.

armyguy 7 years, 4 months ago

The only thing I have seen around the wetlands is a stuck in the mud deer, some birds and lots of mosquitoes. .I do hope the project gets done. It would be better to reduce the amount of smog, emissions exhaust and wasted fuel etc. that the environmentalists don't want, than to save some swamp land. Pigeons, rats and cockroaches need a place to live also. Save the Cockroaches.......

Piper 7 years, 4 months ago

"The package includes moving Haskell Avenue east and Louisiana Street west from their current locations to provide a natural buffer area for the wetlands."I live north of 31st and Louisiana. If they move Louisiana to the west, that would put it through my house. So if this goes through, a lot of people will be losing their homes, won't they? Same thing happened in Wichita with the Kellogg Flyover project.

Centerville 7 years, 4 months ago

What's the fun of traffic flowing around the south of the city when we could continue to force it through our neighborhoods, stopping and idling at our various stop lights, 4-way stops and roundabouts, and speeding down our residential streets?

Fred Whitehead Jr. 7 years, 4 months ago

The Haskell Swamp is a public nuisance. City ordnances prohibit public nuisances. It is a breeding place for pests and mosquitos. These pests plague the southern part of the city. So why has no one filed a suit to get rid of this public nuisance? Could it be our rubber-stamp city commisison lacks the moral turpitude to enforce city ordnances without any instructions by the city manager and "city staff" who are all-too-busy planning for the next traffic obstruction?? The ordnance is on the books, the mosquitos are moving into our yards in clouds, and the city sits idly by allowing this to "preserve the "wetlands", i.e. a man-made public nuisance swamp.

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