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Temporary closure of 15th/Bob Billings Parkway this summer upsets neighbors; city proposes new detour in hopes of alleviating concerns
We’ve been telling you for awhile now that the area near 15th and Iowa streets is going to be a mess for a good part of 2013. Well, it looks like the mess is going to spread into City Hall tonight.
As we have reported in the past, Iowa Street from about Harvard Road to the Irving Hill Road overpass is set to get rebuilt in 2013. The project, which has lingered in the planning stages for almost three years, has mainly focused on rebuilding Iowa Street and adding a center turn lane.
But the $6.5 million project also includes significant improvements to the intersection of Iowa Street and Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street. As we have previously reported, the construction plan for the project includes closing 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway for several hundred feet on both sides of Iowa Street. In other words, you won’t be able to turn off Iowa Street onto Bob Billings to the west or 15th Street to the east, and vice versa. Iowa Street will have one lane of traffic open in each direction.
The entire project is expected to last from February through November, but the city is estimating that 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway will be closed from May 20 to Aug. 16.
That part of the project seems to be catching some neighbors by surprise. I talked to Lawrence resident Nelson Krueger who lives in the neighborhood, and it sure sounds like there will be a push made at tonight’s City Commission meeting to get commissioners to leave the intersection fully open.
But city engineers are warning that such a change this late in the game is going to cause multiple delays to the project. Chuck Soules, director of public works for the city, told me the Kansas Department of Transportation — remember that Iowa Street is also U.S. Highway 59 — is scheduled to be advertised for bid on Wednesday, with bid openings on Jan. 17.
If Bob Billings/15th Street had to remain open during construction, KDOT has indicated it will pull the project from the January bid letting schedule. Soules said that means the start of the project likely would be pushed back by three to four months — it is scheduled to begin in February — and total length of the project would be increased by four months because it will take longer to do the construction work while traffic continues in the area. All told, that means more of the project will happen during Kansas University’s school year.
The city also is predicting that motorists on Iowa Street will see significantly longer delays if the intersection is left open. The key here is that Iowa Street will only have one lane in each direction. If the intersection is closed, the city can remove the traffic signal and keep traffic continuously moving through the construction zone. But if the intersection remains open, the traffic signal will have to remain in place, and with just one lane of traffic, vehicles are predicted to back up for long distances in both directions. Soules told me he can envision traffic backing up through the 19th Street intersection and close to 23rd Street.
The city probably did not help itself by officially designating the detour for the project as Sixth Street to Kasold or Clinton Parkway to Kasold. That will take motorists a long distance out of their way to get to Bob Billings Parkway.
As opposition has grown, however, the city has shifted its detour plan. Soules confirmed to me this morning that he has gotten permission from KU to use several West Campus streets as the official detour for the project. The plan is motorists could turn west at the 19th and Iowa intersection and go through the West Campus streets that run by the Lied Center and the Dole Institute of Politics and then re-enter Bob Billings Parkway at Crestline Drive.
Soules said the city always assumed that would be a de facto detour for motorists, but since those streets are maintained by KU, it needed the university’s permission before signs were put up to declare it the official detour.
We’ll see if that shorter detour makes neighbors happier.
Neighbors — led by Krueger and a few businesses along Bob Billings Parkway — have put together a presentation arguing that closing the intersection will hurt a whole host of businesses.
I received a copy of the presentation this morning, and the neighbors contend there are 2,000 residents in single-family homes and apartment complexes — the large Meadowbrook Apartment Complex is just west of the intersection — that will be impacted. The intersection will be closed during the critical time period of late July and early August when new residents are moving into the apartment complexes.
In addition, the shopping center at Bob Billings and Kasold stands to lose significant business, Krueger argues, because that is when many of those businesses establish relationships with those new residents.
Krueger also contends the city didn’t do enough to notify residents west of Iowa Street about the project. Soules said the city did send out notices to residents, but he said the notification did not stretch all the way to Kasold Drive.
City commissioners will get to sort it all out at their meeting tonight, which begins at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.