We can only hope that the state funding commitment announced on Friday will lead, at long last, to the completion of the beleaguered South Lawrence Trafficway.
Even the press release announcing that the state would spend $192 million to complete the bypass referred to the “long-discussed” SLT. Back in 1985, Douglas County commissioners proposed a $3.5 million bond issue for a trafficway to connect Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence to the Kansas Turnpike to the northwest. It was the first step in a faltering project that has become a grim joke in Lawrence and much of the state.
Completing the SLT is part of the $1.8 billion T-WORKS program passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2010. The state’s commitment to the project is, in no small part, related to the important link it would provide in the state’s busiest traffic corridor, which runs between Topeka and Johnson County. The looming completion of the four-lane U.S. 59 south of Lawrence adds to the urgency of completing a bypass that will carry traffic east to K-10.
Congratulations and thanks are due to Gov. Sam Brownback, Transportation Secretary Deb Miller and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, as well as officials in Manhattan, Shawnee County and Overland Park, for joining local officials in supporting this important transportation link to the state’s growing high-tech corridor.
The SLT is not the most expensive project in the T-WORKS plan, but, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation, it carries the greatest economic impact, an estimated $3.7 billion. The SLT also is one of a couple of T-WORKS projects for which KDOT plans to explore charging tolls to offset construction and maintenance costs. KDOT estimates that tolls could raise as much as $50 million to construct the project. The department plans to work with the Kansas Turnpike Authority, Lawrence and Douglas County to come up with a scheme that charges tolls only for people who travel the full length of the SLT but allows free access for local motorists.
They envision a toll of no more than a dollar, which probably is a bargain for people linking from the turnpike to K-10, but maintaining free access for local drivers using just a portion of the SLT is essential.
It’s hard for Lawrence residents to believe the trafficway could finally be headed toward completion. KDOT estimates that a final design for the trafficway will be completed in the next two years with construction beginning in late 2013 or in 2014. That, of course, assumes that it isn’t stymied by continuing legal battles, including a pending appeal in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the approved route through the Baker Wetlands.
Books could be written about the proposals, protests, rulings and roadblocks that have marked this project for more than three decades. The priority the state now is placing on completing the South Lawrence Trafficway is a recognition that it’s time to move forward on this important missing link in the state’s highway system.
We — and, we suspect, most Lawrence residents — couldn’t agree more.