KDOT begins study to address dramatically increased traffic on K-10’s west leg

No timetable, funds set for possible expansion to 4 lanes

photo by: Elvyn Jones

A motorist turns off Kansas Highway 10 at the Kasold Drive intersection during an afternoon rush hour on July 10, 2018. The section of K-10 west of U.S. Highway 59 to Wakarusa Drive has become the busiest section of the still two-lane K-10 west leg since the four-lane east leg opened in November 2016.

The official traffic count on the Kansas Department of Transportation website pegs at 6,080 the number of vehicles per day using Kansas Highway 10 — the South Lawrence Trafficway — in the first mile just west of U.S. Highway 59.

If that seems woefully low to those who regularly drive that section of K-10, it is. The count is from 2016, and the newly constructed four-lane K-10 east leg was only opened for traffic the last two months of that year.

Motorists probably have particularly noticed heavy traffic between the Iowa Street/U.S. Highway 59 interchange and Wakarusa Drive. KDOT’s preliminary traffic counts for that stretch of road average 18,400 vehicles per day. In fact, that stretch of two-lane road is now the busiest section of Kansas Highway 10 west of Iowa Street. It overtook the section of K-10 that is between Sixth Street and the Kansas Turnpike/Interstate 70. However, traffic is also growing on that section of roadway. The daily average now stands at 17,700 vehicles, up from 13,300 in 2016.

In short, the numbers show there has been a traffic boom in west Lawrence. But motorists who drive the route likely don’t need numbers to know that. The more frequent bumper-to-bumper traffic that is occurring near some entrance and exit ramps has made them well aware of the increase.

The consequences of traffic increases on the K-10 west leg from U.S. 59 to I-70 during the past two years aren’t lost on KDOT planners, said KDOT spokesperson Laurie Arellano. This month, KDOT began a three-year environmental impact study for the expansion of the west leg from two to four lanes. The study is a needed step in KDOT’s process of expanding the west leg to four lanes.

“There is concern for the higher traffic volume,” she said. “We want to identify solutions because the level of service on K-10 is deteriorating for people who live and work in that area.”

The public will have the opportunity to voice concerns and opinions on the west leg improvements at hearings as the environmental impact study moves forward, Arellano said.

Just when the west leg expansion will happen after the completion of the three-year environmental impact study is the multimillion-dollar question, Arellano said. It is not on any current KDOT capital improvement list, and there are no funds set aside for expansion. However, the state is starting to explore a new transportation plan as its current 10-year T-Works plan wraps up, she said.

Task force to study transportation needs

Gov. Jeff Colyer signed into law in May a bill that establishes a Transportation Task Force to study needs throughout the state and make priority rankings for a new statewide transportation plan. According to the governor’s website, the task force is expected to make its recommendations to the Legislature in January 2019.

The legislation establishing a roughly 40-member task force mandates it include legislative leaders, state residents, industry stakeholders, local government representatives and multiple Kansas cabinet secretaries. Richard Proehl, the chair of the Kansas House Transportation Committee and member of the task force, said there are no Lawrence or Douglas County members on the task force.

Arellano said the task force was just getting organized and won’t start touring the state until after the August primary. It won’t be starting from scratch by considering only new transportation needs. She said the task force will consider 23 projects that were to be part of the current T-Works plan but deferred when the state reallocated KDOT revenue for other purposes. The task force will consider those deferred projects with emerging transportation needs such as the K-10 west leg.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat who serves on the Kansas House Transportation Committee, said the 23 projects were deferred because the state dipped into KDOT revenue to cover shortfalls caused by the tax cuts passed under former Gov. Sam Brownback. The Legislature needed to stop that practice for projects like the K-10 west leg to move forward and in a more timely manner, she said.

The Legislature made a positive step in that direction by rescinding $600 million of the Brownback tax cuts, which has improved the state revenue picture, Ballard said.

“State revenue collections have exceeded the consensus estimates the last six months,” she said. “I think the (KDOT) revenue situation is going to improve immensely. Not only are Democrats disappointed with taking money from KDOT, but Republicans have voiced their disappointment.”

Wakarusa Drive interchange

Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning said the increase in volume on K-10 just west of U.S. 59 is worrisome because the stretch has two at-grade intersections — the type that require motorists to stop to accommodate crossing traffic. A signal controls traffic at the K-10/Wakarusa Drive intersection, and KDOT limited the K-10/Kasold Drive intersection to right-on, right-off turns to reduce the chance of accidents. Adding to concern is that the intersections are just east of the point at which the road changes from a four-lane highway to a two-lane highway. Motorists are supposed to reduce their speeds on the two-lane portion of the road.

Browning had hoped KDOT would move forward with a new Wakarusa Drive/K-10 interchange before starting the K-10 lane expansion. KDOT plans to show that the interchange would be built about halfway between the current Wakarusa Drive/K-10 interchange and Kasold Drive. The plan would eliminate both dangerous K-10 at-grade intersections and would link to an extension of Wakarusa Drive to the south in an $8 million joint county and city of Lawrence project, which would include a new bridge over the Wakarusa River.

Arellano said, however, that the current KDOT plan was to do the Wakarusa Drive interchange as part of the overall K-10 west leg improvements.

“Breaking it down to doing the interchanges as a separate project just slows down the four-lane expansion,” she said. “Doing the improvements as two projects adds to the costs because we can’t take advantage of economies of scale.”


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