Thousands of Lawrence motorists per day may soon be adding a trip through North Lawrence to their daily routines.
At least city officials hope so.
A plan to expand the busy intersection of Sixth and Iowa streets will be up for approval at Tuesday's Lawrence City Commission meeting, and a large part of the plan involves asking motorists to use the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence rather than the West Lawrence interchange on McDonald Drive.
23rd and Louisiana
Navigating the intersection of 23rd and Louisiana streets is expected to get more difficult beginning today.
The part of Louisiana Street immediately north of 23rd Street will be closed to traffic as crews install a waterline. The closure is expected to last through Wednesday.
The city has been urging motorists to avoid the intersection for weeks due to the waterline work. But the project became more complicated when crews struck an AT&T fiber optic cable on April 23. Since that time, eastbound 23rd Street motorists have not been able to turn left onto Louisiana Street. On Tuesday, westbound motorists also will not be able to turn right onto Louisiana Street. Southbound motorists on Louisiana Street also will be blocked from accessing 23rd Street.
On Thursday the city expects to partially reopen the intersection. All turning movements at the intersection will be allowed except for eastbound 23rd Street motorists wanting to turn left onto Louisiana Street. That left turn is expected to be prohibited until May 15, which is when AT&T crews are scheduled to complete the fiber optic cable repairs.
But even then the project won’t be done. Work to replace the old waterline between Alabama and Louisiana streets is expected to run through July. During that time period westbound traffic on 23rd Street will be reduced to one lane.
Work on the intersection is expected to begin May 19 — the day after Kansas University's commencement — and the detour through North Lawrence likely would be in place through June, said city engineer David Cronin.
The Sixth and Iowa project will affect turnpike motorists because of the two tunnels beneath the Sixth and Iowa intersection. The tunnels link to McDonald Drive, which leads to the turnpike's West Lawrence interchange. Both those tunnels will be closed for about six weeks as part of the project.
Cronin said the city's original plan called for detouring traffic to Rockledge Road, which is just west of Sixth and Iowa streets and runs behind the Hampton Inn and several other hotels at the intersection.
But Cronin said upon further review and concerns from neighbors, the city decided it would be better to establish a detour that leads motorists to the turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. But Cronin said Rockledge would be open throughout the project, as would the West Lawrence interchange on McDonald Drive.
"Certainly people know their way around town,and they know that is going to be a shortcut," Cronin said. "We can't stop them from using it."
The one exception to that is large trucks. The Rockledge route won't be a legal truck route, meaning large trucks could be ticketed for using the street to get to the turnpike.
The city and the Kansas Turnpike Authority also will be putting up multiple signs to encourage motorists to use the interchange in North Lawrence.
As for the Sixth and Iowa project, it also has its challenges. Bids for the expansion work came in $500,000 over budget. The project now is expected to cost $1.9 million to build. But engineers are recommending that the project continue.
"The capacity of the intersection is going to be much better once we complete this project, especially during rush hour traffic," Cronin said.
The long-discussed project would add a turn lane for westbound motorists on Sixth Street to turn left onto Iowa Street. Currently, there is no turn lane and through traffic often stacks up behind a motorist who has stopped to turn left.
"People get stuck and then then try to pull out and get around them, and that creates some accidents," Cronin said.
In addition, the project also will add a turn lane for eastbound motorists on Sixth Street wanting to turn right onto Iowa Street. The project also will re-stripe the Iowa Street portion of the intersection to allow for dual left-turn lanes for motorists turning onto Sixth Street.
The project is expected to close one lane of traffic on the Sixth Street portion of the intersection for much of the construction period, Cronin said. But the lane closure will be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cronin said the city placed the time restriction on the contract to keep the intersection fully open for rush-hour traffic.
Construction work is expected to last until late September.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.