It certainly is no surprise that opponents plan to file a lawsuit to block construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway on a 32nd Street route.
We can only hope this will be the last lawsuit involving this controversial road.
A press release issued Monday night indicated that the Haskell Wetlands Preservation Organization, with the support of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and a number of area environmental groups, will hold a press conference Friday to announce their lawsuit. The Haskell group will take the lead on the effort, perhaps because opponents believe the significance of the wetlands to Native American culture and history is their strongest argument against completing the trafficway.
The lawsuit will challenge the "record of decision" issued earlier this year by the Federal Highway Administration. The document was the final approval required to build the SLT, but construction hasn't moved forward, in part, because of a lack of funding. Federal and state highway funds are scarce, and officials have been hesitant to commit funding to a project that still faced the legal uncertainties that have plagued the SLT for several decades.
If the latest lawsuit helps clarify and eliminate those legal barriers, it will be a great boon for Lawrence. If the courts reject the Native American and environmental concerns, construction can go ahead on the approved route. If the lawsuit is found to have merit, local officials may be forced to consider other routes for the southern bypass.
Traffic in the Kansas City-Lawrence-Topeka corridor continues to grow. Work on the new U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence is well under way and highway officials must have a way to move traffic from that road around Lawrence and to the east.
Lawrence's own "bridge to nowhere" at the south end of Iowa Street is a monument to how a highway project can split a community. How much longer does Lawrence want to be the laughingstock of the state relative to the almost criminal and costly delay of this road, which would traverse what used to be poor scrub farmland?
It's almost guaranteed that no solution to the SLT puzzle will satisfy everyone, but it's time to move this project from the courts to construction.