Mitigation moves ahead
No, that tractor moving dirt adjacent to the Baker Wetlands isn’t clearing a path for completing the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Instead, the movement is part of early work in a $975,000 effort to add 142 acres of wetlands west of the extension of Louisiana Street, north of the Wakarusa River.
A crew overseen by Roger Boyd, director of natural resources for Baker University, is busy creating swales and other water-holding features that will accommodate the spreading of seeds taken from plants in the adjacent Baker Wetlands.
Expanding the wetlands is part of a mitigation agreement designed to make up for the planned construction of the trafficway, which would cut through the northern end of the Baker Wetlands. The trafficway would connect Iowa Street with Kansas Highway 10 at the southeastern edge of town near Noria Road.
For a look at the work, and to hear Boyd discuss the project, visit LJWorld.com and watch 6News at 10 p.m. today on Sunflower Broadband’s Channel 6.
— Mark Fagan
Barack Obama’s imminent presidential inauguration — and, in particular, his plans for billions of dollars in infrastructure investment — is stimulating hope for completing the South Lawrence Trafficway in Lawrence.
No matter which way the limited-access highway would go.
Opponents of the project’s current path say Obama’s economic-stimulus plan easily could bankroll finishing the highway, provided it would run south of the Wakarusa River. They say work could be started within two years.
“I can find a whole lot of people who would stand in line to help,” said Bob Eye, an attorney for a coalition of environmental and other groups suing stop the trafficway from being extended through the Baker Wetlands. “Certainly, there are some opportunities here for some creative thinking.”
Supporters of the existing plan, which would run through the wetlands on what is known as a 32nd Street alignment, dismiss the south-of-the-river talk as little more than a dream. Such a rerouting would take at least 10 years to accomplish, said Roger Boyd, who already is moving dirt to help mitigate the trafficway extension’s planned construction, whenever that time comes.
Following the 32nd Street alignment, as approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, likely wouldn’t be ready within two years, Boyd said, given the pending lawsuit. But the stimulus money could finance other state highway projects, freeing up future money — an estimated $148 million — for the trafficway itself.
“That’ll make it more likely the trafficway will be funded through normal channels,” said Boyd, director of natural areas for Baker University. “I think there’s going to be less concern about where in the world that money’s going to come from.”
All the money talk comes as the trafficway saga approaches several key mileposts:
• Monday morning, two new Douglas County commissioners will be sworn in, shifting the governing body’s ideological majority as it pertains to the trafficway. Gone will be Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney, two proponents for building the trafficway through the wetlands. Now, incoming Commissioner Nancy Thellman will join incumbent Commissioner Charles Jones as being on record as not favoring a 32nd Street alignment, leaving incoming Commissioner Jim Flory in the minority. Just how the shift in thinking will affect the project, if at all, is unclear.
• Members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization soon will meet to discuss the county’s priorities for transportation projects. The trafficway long has been on the organization’s list, but now that the organization’s formal membership is changing — planning commissioners no longer will carry such responsibilities, instead turning them over to members including local elected officials and a representative from the Kansas Department of Transportation — the community’s formal priorities could shift. “The position of the county, as a position from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, likely will be changing in the very near future,” said Craig Weinaug, county administrator.
• KDOT has a list of $1.28 billion in projects ready to go, should Obama follow through with plans to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure, including roads, highways and bridges. On the state’s list is $10 million for a new trafficway interchange at Bob Billings Parkway.
• The lawsuit seeking to stop the trafficway’s planned extension through the wetlands remains pending in federal court in Kansas City, Kan. Eye, the attorney for opponents of the 32nd Street alignment, expects briefs in the case to be prepared this summer.