Archive for Friday, April 27, 2012

Town Talk: State moving ahead with $17 million West Lawrence interchange for SLT; KDOT also preparing for SLT eastern leg construction; N. Lawrence project heads to City Hall

April 27, 2012


• It looks like a new $17 million interchange for Bob Billings Parkway and the South Lawrence Trafficway actually will be built in the near future.

Funding for the project had been a big question mark for months. The Kansas Department of Transportation at one point suggested it would need to make portions of the SLT a toll road in order to pay for the project. A public survey, however, found the public wasn’t crazy about the idea of tolls, and changing the SLT project to a toll road could have caused the project to reopen a key environmental study. (There may have needed to be a study about whether Agnus T. Frog would need to pay the toll. That’s a joke for the old timers.)

The state at another point had tied the future of the interchange to winning a federal grant through the stimulus program. But the project wasn’t selected for funding.

But on Tuesday, KDOT leaders will present plans for the state to pay for most of the project through its comprehensive transportation program. Construction would begin in 2014.

The state is seeking $2 million in local funding from the city and the county to pay for some of the upgraded features of the interchange. As currently designed, the project will be a diamond interchange, similar to the one at Sixth Street and the SLT. But this interchange also would include sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of the bridge. The interchange also will accommodate the hike and bike path that runs along the South Lawrence Trafficway.

City commissioners will decide later this summer whether the city can afford to provide local funding for the project. But here is betting that they will. (County funding will be interesting to watch. The county’s budget, I believe, will be quite a bit tighter than the city’s in 2013.) Although some neighbors along Bob Billings Parkway are concerned about the increased traffic an interchange would bring, there seem to be far more people in the community who see the interchange as a potential economic boon. The interchange truly will create a new gateway into Kansas University. Motorists coming from the west now will have a straight shot into the university.

KDOT hopes to begin buying right-of-way for the project later this year. It also will be interesting to watch what private land transactions happen west of this interchange site. Once Lawrence’s housing market picks up again, I suspect the area west of the interchange will become a major growth area. Simply put, this interchange may do more to change traffic patterns in Lawrence than any project has in quite some time.

• Let’s see, is there another project that would change traffic patterns much in Lawrence. What’s that project east of Iowa Street that gets talked about occasionally? That’s right, the uncompleted leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway. (You’ll have to excuse my forgetfulness. The very first article I wrote as a journalist in Douglas County was about a 1992 public hearing that was slated to be the last meeting needed before the road could be completed.)

We’re all still waiting for a ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the project has the proper permits to build the road through the Baker Wetlands between Haskell and Louisiana. That ruling will come when it will come, but KDOT is intent on being ready to start construction, if the state ends up on the winning side of the argument.

At Tuesday’s meeting, city commissioners actually will be asked to sign some documents that clear the way for KDOT to undertake construction in the city limits — once the lawsuit is resolved. In fact, the documents really will clear the way for two road projects — the four-lane South Lawrence Trafficway and a newly constructed 31st Street.

The SLT plans long have included a rebuilding and relocation of the stretch of 31st Street that runs through wetlands. (The road will move south, farther from the Haskell campus.) But city and county leaders also have developed plans to extend 31st Street east to O’Connell Road. KDOT is now recommending the extension of 31st Street be bid by the state as part of the overall SLT project. The city, and perhaps the county, will still have to pay for the road, but KDOT is confident the bids will come in cheaper for the extension if it is part of a larger construction project. That likely means the city will need to figure out how to pay for that extension — once estimated at about $5 million — by 2014, which is when the state hopes to be under construction on the SLT.

The documents city commissioners will review Tuesday do provide a good summary of several of the major components of the SLT construction project. If you have had a hard time keeping up — I don’t know why you would — here’s a look:

— The SLT will be a four-lane, divided highway.

— An interchange near Noria Road will allow access to 23rd Street, which will no longer be a state highway and will become the maintenance responsibility of the city.

— An interchange will be constructed at Haskell Avenue, which will be relocated to the east of its current route. Haskell — also known as East 1500 Road outside the city limits — will travel under the new SLT and will re-emerge on its current alignment before it crosses the Wakarusa River.

— Louisiana Street will be relocated a half-mile west of its current alignment. It, too, will continue south — as East 1400 Road — and will return to its current alignment before it crosses the Wakarusa River.

— The SLT will bridge over O’Connell Road in eastern Lawrence, and there will be no access to the SLT from O’Connell.

— 317 acres of man-made wetland will be built to replace the 57.6 acres of the Baker Wetlands that will be lost to the road construction.

— A 10,000-square-foot cultural/wetland center will be built by the state and run by Baker University near the new 31st and Louisiana intersection.

— A 10-foot-wide hike and bike trail will connect Iowa Street to O’Connell Road with connections to Haskell Avenue, the wetland center, Mary’s Lake, and Broken Arrow Park.

— Noise walls will be constructed along the portion of the project that runs through the wetlands.

• Not all of Tuesday’s city commission meeting will be devoted to the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway project. Commissioners also will have an agenda topic that rarely ever creates controversy — downtown development. (Wait a second, I might be wrong on that, too.)

This downtown development proposal actually will be different from most. As we previously have reported, a development group that has bought the property surrounding Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence hopes to build a boardwalk style retail, office and residential development along the Kansas River levee.

But the development group — which includes the owners of Johnny’s, local businessman Jon Davis and several other partners — contend the area needs to officially be considered a part of downtown. The designation is about much more than marketing. It would allow the project to be built with zoning codes, parking codes and design guidelines that currently are only available to downtown properties.

The proposal got a mixed reception from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. It is too long to explain here but some items won a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission while another key item did not, in part because one commissioner was late to the meeting. (If city commissioners were hoping for a clear recommendation on this project, they may have been better served consulting their Ouija board.)

Downtown Lawrence merchants also seemed mixed on the plan. A key concern seems to be that the developers are looking for one exception to the downtown standards. They want the ability to have retail stores of up to 50,000 square feet in the development. In downtown, retail buildings are limited to a footprint of 25,000 square feet.

Exactly what would occupy a 50,000 square foot retail building in North Lawrence probably will go a long way in determining whether people support the exception. If it is a grocery store, North Lawrence residents would fall all over themselves in support of it. If it is a movie theater, as has been mentioned, that probably would get wide support. If it is a big box retailer, well, some would support it but some downtown merchants — I’ve heard — would have concerns.

I hope to check in with the developers and some downtown leaders prior to Tuesday’s meeting.


flyin_squirrel 6 years, 1 month ago

Build the traffic way, and definitely build the North Riverfront development. More businesses and more people living near downtown is good for downtown!

buffalo63 6 years, 1 month ago

If the SLT becomes a toll road, would the K-tag work or would we have to hang another tag in the windshield? Also the 23rd street traffic would not drop as much.

JackMcKee 6 years, 1 month ago

Pave the wetlands. Pave over the pavement. Put down another layer of concrete. Seal it. Then put some asphalt on top. Then a spray it all with Round-Up. Then put down plastic sheeting. Then pave it again.

On top of that build the road.

JackMcKee 6 years, 1 month ago

use the tears of the tree hugging hippies to irrigate the new landscaping.

Matthew Del Vecchio 6 years, 1 month ago

So if 23rd St is no longer a state highway then that porn shop has to go right?

Frank A Janzen 6 years, 1 month ago

Chad, I have a recollection that way back when the SLT was under way, and the 15th Street extension was built (before it became Billings Parkway) there was some agreement that there would NEVER be a connection between the two, to aviod just that worry about the "increased traffic" and to avoid the use of the SLT to access Lawrence from that direction. What happened?

That reminds me of a similar "agreement" in the days of Vern Miller, the Union burning, etc., about the Rock Chalk Cafe, that there would NEVER again be any establishment named "Rock Chalk Cafe" in Lawrence. Is that true? Could someone open a new Rock Chalk Cafe without any interference? (Or a Yellow House Store, for that matter? "Your Business Name Here.")

grammarrodeo 6 years, 1 month ago

Agreements probably went out the window after the first lawsuit was filed.

gatekeeper 6 years, 1 month ago

If all the people in West Lawrence want the SLT so they're commute is better, then it should be a toll road and they can pay for it. They're who's screaming for it because they chose to live there and commute to KC and have to deal with 23rd St.

JackMcKee 6 years, 1 month ago

We should charge a toll to everyone living in East Lawrence to come West of New Hampshire Street since the people in West Lawrence already pay for everything.

JackMcKee 6 years, 1 month ago

Great idea. Charge Triple on game days.

cozborn 6 years, 1 month ago

cedars are pretty invasive on old farmland

irnmadn88 6 years, 1 month ago

Hmmm. No mention of improvements to the intersection at Wakarusa Drive/27th St and the SLT/K-10. Why not? If not, that traffic light will be the ONLY traffic light on K-10. How many semi-trucks do you think will begin to use that road once it is completed?

At least one adult person has already lost their life at that intersection. Several weekends a year, hundreds if not a thousand kids use that intersection.

Surely the only means of exiting a multi-field sports complex controlled by a traffic light across a highway needs improvement? Especially in an emergency evacuation?

irnmadn88 6 years, 1 month ago

Not to mention US 59 in Douglas County will also be completed by that time.

kcwarpony 6 years, 1 month ago

"The SLT plans long have included a rebuilding and relocation of the stretch of 31st Street that runs through wetlands. (The road will move south, farther from the Haskell campus.) "

That should read "OFF" the Haskell campus, not "farther from". That part of 31st street sits on Federal land and I would still like to see the ROW document...that is if it even exist.

Carol Bowen 6 years, 1 month ago

The 15th Street connection to the trafficway will give commuters a route to Kansas City without driving through local traffic in Lawrence. That would be a benefit to the commuters and the city. If this was not part of the original plan, it should have been . . . Before the area was developed. There was plenty of time to do that. The SLT has been on the table since the mid 1980's. Now, it will probably raise concerns along Billings Parkway.

pace 6 years, 1 month ago

Sixth Street and the SLT at 5 pm weekdays is one of the most dangerous stretches of Highway I have ever driven. Needs traffic lights. the exits to highway 40 are nightmares. Death waiting to happen.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

"and changing the SLT project to a toll road could have caused the project to reopen a key environmental study. "

Translation-- they might have to do an honest one. That could be a potentially disastrous precedent to the pave-it-all-over industry.

Norm Jennings 6 years, 1 month ago

for the "stick-it-to-the-commuters" crowd...are you enjoying the worthless "T" that the commuters' property taxes are paying for (or rather paying interest on the debt for) ???

amazing how the "us and them" arguments pop up from some folks...where's the love man? Don't you think I'd rather work local than commute?? The boobs we keep electing can't encourage enough local living-wage jobs - and just a newsflash, added living-wage laws don't create value to support living-wage salaries, they just give you more of the commuters many seem to have it out for

Bob-RJ Burkhart 6 years, 1 month ago

We’re all still waiting for a ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the project has the proper permits to build the road through the Baker Wetlands between Haskell and Louisiana. That ruling will come when it will come, but KDOT is intent on being ready to start construction, if the state ends up on the winning side of the argument. <<

FHWA KSDOT route planners failed to involve KDEM/Lawrence-Douglas County Local Emergency Planning Commission (LEPC) in compliance with our USEPA Community Right To Know (CTRK) concerning IMPACTS of highly likely hazardous material spills.

As a Viet Nam Era Veteran who (so far) evaded delayed impacts of Agent Orange, I'm unwilling to sanction either appointed public administrators or elected officials (aka White Collar Criminals?) who conspire to compromise my 1967 USNR Federal Commissioning Oath. I expect my MOAA & VFW peers will remain committed to the same moral standards.

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