It’s good news that Kansas Department of Transportation officials have decided against trying to charge tolls on any portion of the completed South Lawrence Trafficway.
There was no way to charge the tolls that wouldn’t place an unfair burden on local motorists who most often travel on only a small section of the bypass. Even after the SLT is completed, the most common usage by local motorists will be to travel from somewhere in the middle of the bypass to either the west or east end, where they can connect with the Kansas Turnpike or Kansas Highway 10.
KDOT officials had proposed using revenue from the tolls to fund a new SLT interchange at Bob Billings Parkway. Although some Lawrence residents are concerned about the additional traffic that would flow onto Bob Billings and 15th Street, an interchange at that location would provide an important access point to Kansas University and business developments in west Lawrence.
That interchange probably is needed, but KDOT is doing the right thing by keeping its primary focus on the completion of the eastern leg of the SLT. A recent KDOT survey showed that tolls would at least minimally reduce the number of motorists who would use the trafficway instead of existing city streets, such as 23rd Street. Changing the estimates or how much traffic the SLT would attract would require KDOT to go through the cumbersome process of drafting a new environmental impact statement, which would guarantee additional delays in a project that the state hopes to begin construction on by fall of 2013.
State funds have been committed to complete the SLT, and federal permits have been issued for the project. The permits were upheld in federal court, but SLT opponents are appealing that decision, and oral hearings in that case are scheduled for next week in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. If the appeals court upholds the lower court decision, KDOT should be ready to move ahead on this project without any additional roadblocks, such as the need for a new EIS statement.
The impact that tolls would have had on how many people use a completed SLT is just one reason KDOT should dismiss the toll idea — but it is reason enough. Other funding for a new interchange at Bob Billings Parkway can be identified later. The goal now is finish this long-overdue road.