Street focus

Plans for next year indicate the city remains focused on the goal of catching up on delayed street maintenance.

The 2012 maintenance plan on tonight’s Lawrence City Commission agenda indicates that the city is trying to remain aggressive in its efforts to upgrade city streets.

Using funds from the city’s infrastructure sales tax and other funding sources, the city is proposing $4.95 million in street maintenance projects for next year. Those include some major projects like rebuilding Wakarusa Drive at its intersection with Bob Billings Parkway and repaving Sixth Street between Iowa Street and Monterey Way along with many smaller improvements to neighborhood streets throughout the city. A state project also is scheduled to reconstruct the 23rd Street bridge between Barker Street and Haskell Avenue.

Another project that will be considered separately is the addition of a left-turn lane for westbound traffic at Sixth and Iowa streets. If approved, engineering work for the project would begin next year and construction in 2013. Adding the lane would be a major improvement for both traffic flow and safety at the intersection. The city’s Public Works Department estimates the new turn lane would reduce the average wait for motorists turning left from 89 seconds to 27 seconds. Even more important, the turn lane would help eliminate many of the last-minute lane changes at that intersection by motorists who find themselves behind left-turning vehicles and dart into the right lane to go straight and avoid stopping.

The city had requested state funding for the $900,000 project. Although the Kansas Department of Transportation supported the project, it said it didn’t have the money to fund it. The $900,000 price tag isn’t a huge amount in the big scheme of the city budget, and funding the project with local dollars would confirm the city’s commitment to its street improvement program.

According to some figures released last week, it seems the city’s efforts already are paying off. Although the city hasn’t completed its survey of current street conditions, the number of streets in the fair to poor range (those that likely will have to be rebuilt) appears to be continuing its steady decline from 2005 when the rating system started. One direct result of the street system improvements is a dramatic decline in the number of potholes patched by city workers. Through November, city crews had patched 10,901 potholes this year compared with 30,472 potholes for all of 2010. Heading into the heart of the winter weather season, Lawrence drivers would be pleased to see a continuing trend of fewer car-jarring potholes.

By approving sales tax funds dedicated to street maintenance, local voters sent a clear message to city leaders concerning the high priority they place on upgrading what had become the embarrassing condition of city streets. It’s nice to see significant progress on that priority as well as an ongoing effort to make local streets even better.