South Lawrence Trafficway ( .PDF )
Court date set for SLT lawsuit
A lawsuit filed over the planned completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway has been set for oral argument before three appeals court judges.
The oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 19 at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals courthouse in Denver.
Several groups opposing the trafficway’s completion have asked the court to stop construction on the project, saying the Federal Highway Administration and the Kansas Department of Transportation violated federal law by choosing a route through the Baker Wetlands.
State transportation officials soon will contact about 60 Lawrence property owners to begin the process of buying right-of-way to complete the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway.
The Kansas Department of Transportation announced Monday that it plans to begin staking out needed parcels within the next few weeks. The announcement is the most tangible sign yet that the state is optimistic it can overcome a legal challenge and begin construction on the $150 million bypass project in fall 2013.
“We’re trying to be as efficient and as responsible with public money as we can,” said Josh Powers, a spokesman for KDOT. “If we waited, the project would have to be delayed and those costs would rack up really quickly.”
The uncompleted trafficway — the final six-mile leg would run from south of 33rd and Iowa streets to the intersection of Kansas Highway 10 and Noria Road east of Lawrence — is the subject of a federal lawsuit. The state has won a ruling finding that the project has the necessary permits to build the road through the Baker Wetlands.
But opponents have filed an appeal with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the permit process was flawed and the road should not be allowed in the wetlands.
Powers said the state is prepared to begin purchasing property before the outcome of that appeal is decided. The attorney for the trafficway opponents questioned that approach on Monday.
“It puts them in a situation where they have to accept that they may be throwing resources at purchases that will never result in any benefit,” said Topeka attorney Bob Eye. “It is their decision to make, but it seems that the prudent approach is to take this in the order it presents itself, which is to let the legal issues be resolved first.”
The state doesn’t yet have an estimate for how much the right-of-way purchases may cost. Powers said moving ahead with the right-of-way purchases was the most prudent course the state could take to avoid increased construction costs related to unnecessary construction delays. For example, when it was announced this summer that the project would receive funding, it was estimated to be a $192 million project. But that was based on the road being built in 2016. By moving the project to a 2014 completion, it is now estimated to be a $150 million project.
“If we do not prevail in the lawsuit, we would have land that we would have to look at in terms of what the next steps are for the project,” Powers said. “But those costs are certainly outweighed by what the costs would be if the project were delayed.”
Powers said KDOT sent letters on Monday to owners who have property in the proposed route of the trafficway. The state soon will follow up with the owners to gain permission to enter their properties to drive stakes to show how much property they would need to purchase.
Both the property owners and the state will have appraisals done on the property, and then the state will begin negotiating with owners in the summer. Like all public highway projects, the state can ultimately use the power of eminent domain to purchase the property against the wishes of the property owner.
Powers said it currently does not appear that any residential structures will need to be purchased as part of the project. But it appears likely that at least two business buildings near the intersection of 31st and Haskell could be required to move. In addition to building a four-lane trafficway, the project also will include moving parts of Haskell Avenue, Louisiana Street and 31st Street.