News and notes from around Lawrence:
• Maybe there is a synergy to be created between burritos and the Bible.
We’ll find out soon enough because a church on the outskirts of Lawrence has bought a commercial building at 912 Ill. — right behind Burrito King — to create a new Christian student ministry center.
Grace Evangelical Presbyterian Church has purchased the building, and is in the process of opening the Oread Center.
“We would call it a research center for Christian faith and culture,” said Ryan Mayo, programming director for Grace Evangelical. “We really want to have a presence alongside the university and the students.”
Grace Evangelical has its church near Kasold and Peterson, so attracting students to that location has been a challenge. The church has had an idea about getting a presence closer to the campus for about five years. When the building at 912 Ill. became available, the church decided to jump. The building is technically a house, but it is zoned commercial, Mayo said. It previously has been a book store, a recording studio and a few other various uses.
The Oread Center will have a library, a counseling service, an area for fellowship dinners, and a classroom for adult Sunday school and other such topics. Mayo said the center will have two full-time employees and two interns.
• In a way you could say that the folks at Grace Evangelical are trying to “bridge the gap” between students and the faith community. You definitely could say that if you are writing a Town Talk column and you want to change the subject to bridges — which, I do.
Ever since the Kansas Turnpike Authority opened its Tonganoxie/Eudora interchange just northeast of Lawrence, there has been discussion about whether a new bridge over the Kansas River to connect I-70 to K-10 east of Lawrence is inevitable.
Well, I attended a recent meeting of KDOT officials where a new 30-year plan for the five-county region of Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte was discussed.
That plan certainly makes the idea of a new Kansas River bridge east of Lawrence seem like a long shot. KDOT planners looked at the idea but declined to put the bridge on the list of projects they recommend for the region between now and 2040.
The study estimates it will cost between $340 million and $360 million to build the new bridge and road. The study doesn’t get into a lot of detail, but it looks like the connection to K-10 would be right along the Johnson County/Douglas County line, which is just east of Eudora. The connection on I-70 would be at the new Tonganoxie/Eudora interchange, which is just a few minutes northeast of North Lawrence.
KDOT planners looked at this idea of a new Kansas River bridge as part of an even larger project. Some people in the metro area believe there will be the need for a new outer traffic loop in KC in the foreseeable future.
KDOT planners studied what part of that loop may look like. It would start at the Eudora/Tonganoxie interchange, go along the east edge of Eudora, travel all the way south of Edgerton and pass by Hillsdale Lake in Miami County and connect with Highway 71 in Cass County, Mo.
Think about that for a moment: The I-435 of the future, so to speak, would be on the eastern edge of Eudora. Well, thinking about it is perhaps all that will be done. The KDOT study estimates it would cost about $2.3 billion to build that loop road.
Surprisingly, at $338 million, the new K-10 to I-70 connector — with a new Kansas River bridge — is the cheapest part of that loop project. So, it will be interesting to see if momentum ever builds for just that portion of the project.
Douglas County leaders ought to hope that it does for a couple of reasons. One, there already is a de facto connection between I-70 and K-10. It is the Leavenworth and Douglas County road that runs right through the middle of downtown Eudora. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that road has become inundated with heavy truck traffic yet, but as truck traffic grows in the region, more and more truckers may use the less than ideal connection. I know both Eudora and Douglas County officials do have concern about what could happen along that route in the future.
But a second reason is the opportunity a new connector route could create for economic development interests in the county. If built just east of Eudora, it would make large amounts of open land in eastern Douglas County very attractive from an economic development standpoint.
The other issue to think about is how much would a new I-70/K-10 connector help in efforts to convert the former Farmland Industries property into a bustling business park?
Completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway certainly will help the Farmland property. It will make for a nice route for companies that need to send trucks westward on I-70, and the new U.S. 59 will make for a nice route for those trucks needing to go south on I-35. But what about those trucks that need to go east on I-70?
One of the top economic development recruiters in this region — a guy who really wants to see the Farmland property succeed — told me the answer to that question is still: Go to Kansas City and turn left.
Given that the majority of the population in this country still lives east of here, figuring out how to accommodate companies that ship in that direction is important.
This connector route, if it ever happens, is still a decade or more down the line. Local economic development officials won’t want to wait that long to figure out an answer to the question.
It seems certain there will be much more discussion about what areas in or near Lawrence along I-70 are appropriate for industrial development. People who think a new business park at the Farmland site will relieve all pressure to develop along I-70 in Lawrence are likely mistaken.
Of course, an even bigger question is whether the majority of people in the community want Lawrence to become a major player in attracting the distribution center projects that likely will be looking to this region in the future. That question has grown contentious in the past.
• While we’re on transportation, one other quick note from that KDOT study. You sometimes hear how people believe I-70 will need to be widened to six-lanes between Lawrence and K-7. Well, KDOT planners don’t think so.
The new five-county study does not see a need for the approximately $170 million project any time during the next 30 to 40 years.
But KDOT officials concede the decision to widen I-70 probably won’t be made by KDOT. Instead, that stretch of I-70 is under the control of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
The KDOT study, though, did a lot of traffic modeling for that stretch of road anyway, and found there were other projects — like public transit and park-and-ride lots — that will deliver a greater bang for the buck.