Editorial: Tunnel plan a worthy project

Development of safer passage for bicyclists, pedestrians at 19th and Iowa should be approved.

Lawrence city commissioners should approve a plan for a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel under the intersection of 19th and Iowa streets.

The tunnel would connect the University of Kansas’ main campus with its west campus and create safer crossing at one of Lawrence’s busiest intersections.

City Commissioners will consider the $2 million project during a workshop meeting today. The city has been awarded a $1.6 million state transportation grant that will pay for 80 percent of the project’s cost. The remaining $400,000 would be split between the city and the University of Kansas, which also is donating the required right-of-way for the project.

“This provides an opportunity for safety,” Lawrence City Engineer David Cronin said. “Iowa is the most heavily traveled street in Lawrence; it has the highest average daily traffic volume and it’s a state highway.”

The tunnel will connect the city’s shared-use path on the west side of Iowa Street with the shared-use path being added to the north side of 19th Street. The plan is for two tunnels — one on the east side of Iowa that goes under 19th Street and one on the south side that crosses underneath Iowa.

Design plans, including lighting and other issues, still have to be finalized. If the project is approved, the city will gather community input before proceeding.

“We are still looking at design options, and all those details would be determined later once we got into design,” Cronin said.

Tentative plans are for construction to begin next summer, when the city begins work to reconstruct 19th Street from Iowa Street to Naismith Drive. There isn’t an estimate yet of how long the tunnel would take to complete.

City staff is recommending that the commission accept the state grant for the project and use budgeted 2017 pedestrian/bicycle funds as the local match.

Given that a state grant will fund most of the project and that the University of Kansas is on board as the city’s partner, there appear to be few downsides to the tunnel project. City commissioners should accept the grant and approve the city’s share of the funding during the workshop meeting today.