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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.


Rusty Thomas 5 years, 6 months ago

There are always issues with businesses and residents any time a project of this magnitude begins. Everyone wants the upgrades and improvements, but no one wants to "live" with the inconvenience. Having had a business which was impacted by two major issues - a new roadbed in the late 1980's and flooding in 1993, I can empathize with both residents and businesses. However, the bullet must be bitten at some point (no time will be perfect) and the end result, for the whole community, will be well-worth the inconvenience.

MattressMan 5 years, 6 months ago

Completely agree JHawk, Lawrence has a nimby attitude when it comes to public improvements.

"Krueger also contends the city didn’t do enough to notify residents west of Iowa Street about the project." Heck I dont even live within 3 miles of this intersection and I knew about the detour/project.

LogicMan 5 years, 6 months ago

Man-, Alien-, or whatever-up. It will be inconvienent, but the intersection will be much better after it's done.

blindrabbit 5 years, 6 months ago

Should not impede his travel between his home neighborhood and the "Nelson Krueger Personal Photo Gallery" at the Lawrence Airport. Take 15th West to Wakarusa, North to 6th then either East or West to the Turnpike entrances or the Mass. St. bridge to North Lawrence and hence to the airport.

charlesbunker 5 years, 6 months ago

"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"

The intersection will be completely closed for 3 months.

The city replaced the bridge on 23rd street recently and didn't close 23rd street to thru traffic. The city rebuilt Kasold and didn't close it to thru traffic. The KTA replaced the Kaw River bridge and didn't close I-70 to thru traffic.

Maybe the improvements will be nice when complete, but why is this different then those projects. Why close the intersection completely. Who made the decision to keep those other roads open and close this one.

Jhawkbychoice, why must the bullet be bitten at some point, but only here.

mdlund0 5 years, 6 months ago

The intersection won't be closed completely, traffic will be allowed in both directions on Iowa St. You won't be able to turn onto 15th from Iowa and vice versa. Many of the small intersections on Kasold were closed while that road was being rebuilt. Also this project isn't a bridge, it's an intersection, so that's why it's different.

CHKNLTL 5 years, 6 months ago

It can already take two or three light cycles to turn westbound onto Bob Billings from Northbound Iowa. The traffic going straight is generally backed up enough during rush hour that you can't get into the left turn lane anyway.

Bob_Keeshan 5 years, 6 months ago

It was the neighbors near Clinton Parkway and Kasold that kept Kasold partially open when it was rebuilt several years ago between Clinton and Bob Billings, making that project much much longer than had they followed the city's advice and closed down the road.

All of those neighbors regretted that decision. Always best to get projects over with ASAP.

Tim Herndon 5 years, 6 months ago

The sad, tired pattern: When neighbors rise up in opposition to something that City staff also opposes, the public tone tends to be, "waah, please let's let the good City planners and engineers do their work -- THEY'RE the ones who know what's best for our poor, downtrodden citizenry."

But when City staff supports something that inconveniences someone, or is even perceived to inconvenience someone, the public tone becomes, "Waaah, City staff doesn't care about our poor, downtrodden citizenry."

Well, the marginally informed and wholly self-interested pickets of laypeople out there who frequently decry one side or the other in whatever significant, meaningful project that happens to be going on are not the governing body of this City.

In this and in countless similar instances, let's please just get the project done, suffer the temporary inconvenience, allow the given area to re-normalize and move on with something better in the end. Geez, this continual pattern, borne from the left and the right and the in-the-middle, is redundant and counter-productive and a sad reflection of our selfish immaturity. Yuck.

Kelly Johnson 5 years, 6 months ago

It's Meadowbrook apartments, not Meadowlark, not that it's really important to the story.

SpeedRacer 5 years, 6 months ago

Isn't there also a plan to close Wakarusa at 15th?

bearded_gnome 5 years, 6 months ago

while they're at it, fix the name problem of 15th west of iowa.

Eugehne Normandin 5 years, 6 months ago

How about LPD assisting in the project ? I have never seen any cops directing traffic at road construction projects in town.

hujiko 5 years, 6 months ago

I don't live in the area and already avoid Iowa as a general rule, but this is a joke.

First, it's ridiculous that this project is even being considered an improvement. For who exactly? The dozen or so residences that only have access via Iowa Street should be used to taking the easier (albeit sometimes longer) route by turning right instead of left when entering/exiting their property. It should have been quite obvious when buying/renting along that stretch of road that traffic would make it difficult to turn across an opposing direction of travel. Besides them, the only motorists that will see an "improvement" will be those turning left onto Orchard Ln, Oxford Rd, Stratford Rd, & University Dr, of which ALL have separate connection to multiple city streets. The waiting period to turn will remain the same, so it would be much better and cost less to just limit the entire stretch from allowing left turns of any kind during high volumes of flow.

It's a serious waste money. Nearly everyone is going to suffer so that a select few may turn left instead of right. Thanks a bunch, folks.

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