Study plots routes for missing Lawrence Loop segments; paths would cost millions to build

Lawrence resident MacKenzie Koester approaches 11th Street while running along the Burrough's Trail, Thursday, March 2, 2017. A local work group has started a campaign to fill the gaps in the Lawrence Loop in places where the multiuse path is interrupted. Eleventh and Oregon streets is one of those locations.

There is a new guidepost — and price tag — in the years-long effort to complete the trail system around Lawrence.

A city-commissioned study and resident survey has identified preferred routes for two missing segments of the Lawrence Loop. Once completed, the routes near downtown and Lawrence Memorial Hospital would close prominent trail gaps in the downtown area and northern Lawrence. The study is estimating it will cost about $2.3 million to build the missing paths.

A draft of the study, completed by BG Consultants, notes that the city has twice unsuccessfully applied for Kansas Department of Transportation grants to help fund loop segments. The city subsequently got feedback that the routes required further examination.

“The need to study alignment alternatives in greater detail to finalize the Loop alignment has become apparent,” the study states.

The LiveWell Lawrence coalition, coordinated by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, has been advocating for completion of the loop. LDCHD Community Health Planner Charlie Bryan said the hope is that the route information will help the city be more successful in obtaining grants. That a resident survey was used in those decisions is also key, he said.

“It was also really helpful to have the community input on where the trail should go,” said Bryan, who is also a member of the city’s Transportation Commission. “That’s information we hadn’t previously had.”

Residents shared their preferences for how the routes should cut through and around town at public meetings and via online surveys over the past several months.

In general, residents favored routes that run along the periphery of the city. As in the past, funding and right-of-way acquisition will be obstacles, and both routes would require coordination with outside entities. One of the routes would connect the Sandra J. Shaw trail near Lawrence Memorial Hospital to Peterson Road. The other would be near downtown, connecting the Burroughs Creek Trail on 11th Street to Constant Park on Sixth Street.

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As part of the study, residents picked among several potential routes for both the hospital and downtown segments. The preferred route for the hospital segment runs through a wooded area north of Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park and then under McDonald Drive near the Kansas Turnpike entrance. For the downtown segment, the preferred route runs largely along the old railway lines, near the banks of the Kansas River just northeast of downtown and under the bridge.

To actually construct the hospital and downtown segments will require approvals and right-of-way from the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the BNSF railway. The draft study states that the city has reached out to both entities, and both are requesting more information from the city.

The study estimates that completing the hospital segment would cost about $1.37 million if an underpass is included. Completing the downtown segment would cost about $930,000. Various state and federal grants have been used to complete segments of the loop over the years, and the study states that the city should look and apply for grant programs that have the ability to fund all or a portion of the proposed improvements.

The Lawrence Loop is about 75 percent complete, and will eventually provide a continuous 22-mile concrete path around the city. Apart from the downtown and hospital segments, the other significant gap is in northwestern Lawrence between Queens Road and Kasold Drive.

The Technical Advisory Committee of the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization will review the draft study at its meeting Tuesday. The study will then be referred to the City Commission for consideration at an upcoming meeting.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated one aspect of the study. Residents did not indicate which route was the priority, only prioritized segments within each route.