A long talked-about interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway may be under construction by 2014, if city and county commissioners can find an extra $2 million in their future budgets.
A Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed the state has found a way to include funding for the $17 million interchange in its comprehensive transportation plan, if local leaders can provide about $2 million in local funding for the project.
The interchange has been on the drawing board ever since the western leg of the trafficway was completed years ago.
But funding for the project has been difficult to find. KDOT last year studied the idea of making the South Lawrence Trafficway a toll road to help pay for the intersection. The department scrapped that idea several months ago, and said at the time it wasn’t sure how it would be able to fund the project.
KDOT spokesman Josh Powers said the department decided to add it to the department’s highly competitive T-Works comprehensive transportation plan because the opportunity to build the interchange at the same time construction work is underway on the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway was too good to pass up.
“It represents a chance to save us money, if we can do both projects at once,” Powers said.
Construction of the eastern leg of the SLT project is being challenged in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling in the case is expected later this year, but Powers said KDOT is taking steps to begin construction by late 2013, provided the state is victorious in the lawsuit.
City officials said they were pleased about the sudden reversal in fortunes for the interchange project.
“We need another a connection point on the trafficway to facilitate commuters and people who just want to get to the south part of town,” City Commissioner Mike Dever said. “In the long run, it really will take pressure off the Sixth and SLT interchange.”
Powers said the state also was interested in the project because the interchange will provide a new gateway to Kansas University. Bob Billings Parkway turns into 15th Street east of Iowa and runs into the heart of the KU campus.
KDOT leaders will brief city commissioners on the project at commissioners’ Tuesday evening meeting, but won’t ask the city to make a formal funding commitment. Commissioners are expected to discuss the funding request as part of the 2013 budget process, which will take place this summer.
“We will have to do some real shuffling around of budgeted expenditures, but I think it is possible,” Dever said of coming up with the city’s share of the funding.
Powers said the state hopes to be able to begin discussions about possible land acquisition for the interchange late this year.