It will be the new summer pastime of 2013: Watching and wondering whether the main intersection leading to Kansas University will be open by the time students start arriving for the school year.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday stood by a November 2011 decision to close the portions of Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street for several hundred feet east and west of Iowa Street while crews in the area rebuild the road.
Commissioners agreed to close the portion of the road from May 20 to as late as Aug. 16, despite hearing from about 10 neighbors and businesses who said the road closure would severely affect their businesses or daily lives.
“This is the time of year that new residents are picking the places they go to shop,” said Carrie Warden, an owner of The Scone Lady’s Coffee Shop, 3300 Bob Billings Parkway. “If they can’t find us in the first couple of weeks, they’ll find other places to go.”
City commissioners said they sympathized with the businesses and directed the city manager to come up with an appropriate incentive amount — perhaps as much as $100,000 — to offer to contractors if they can get the project done before Aug. 1, which is the traditional move-in date for apartment residents.
But commissioners unanimously rejected pleas to keep the road open during the project. Commissioners were told by the city’s public works director that the change in plans at this late stage would likely delay the start of the project by four months. In addition, construction work would happen at a slower pace, and the project almost certainly would not be completed before the winter season forced construction work to halt. That means the project would not be finished until the spring of 2014.
The project will be one of the more significant road projects undertaken in recent years. The city, with the help of state and federal money, will undertake a $6.5 million rebuilding of Iowa Street from Harvard Road to the Irving Hill overpass.
The project, which will add a center turn lane to the section of road, is scheduled to start construction Feb. 1 and last into November. Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street, however, is scheduled to be closed only during the summer, while crews smooth out the hill at the intersection and add new turn lanes. At least one lane of traffic in each direction will be maintained on Iowa Street throughout the project.
Commissioners on Tuesday announced they had received permission from KU leaders to run the official detour for the project through West Campus. Motorists will be able to turn west at 19th and Iowa streets and travel through the campus roads by the Lied Center and the Dole Institute of Politics and re-enter Bob Billings Parkway at Crestline Drive.
Commissioners also committed to put up signs seeking to discourage cut through traffic into other neighborhoods near the construction zone.