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Engineers propose roundabout for Wakarusa Drive; new details on plan to bring Google-like fiber project to downtown, East Lawrence
Let's get ready to go round and round. City engineers are proposing a large, multilane roundabout for one of the busier streets in Lawrence.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will be briefed on a proposal to build a dual-lane roundabout at Wakarusa Drive and Legends Drive, which is also Inverness Drive. (Legends is to the west. Inverness is to the east. The odd naming situation already makes me dizzy.)
The roundabout would be the biggest one in Lawrence, and it would be the first one in the city that would allow two lanes of traffic. In other words, as you are taking those big curves of the roundabout, you could be side-by-side with another car.
You know what that means. I'll finally get to simulate my dream of doing side-by-side racing in turn 4 of Daytona Motor Speedway. Actually, I think engineers are seeking to discourage that type of driving. One of the reasons they are recommending a roundabout is because they believe it will increase safety at the intersection. The roundabout is expected to reduce the average speed through the intersection.
Commissioners won't be taking final action on the project at their Tuesday meeting, but they are being asked to provide staff members feedback on the proposal. Instead of a roundabout, commissioners could direct staff to design the project with a traditional traffic signal. But city engineers estimate that a traffic signal would cost $500,000, compared to $350,000 for a roundabout. Plus, engineers believe a roundabout would increase safety for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, compared to a traffic signal.
Engineers said the roundabout, which would be about 20 feet larger in diameter than the next largest one in the city, would be similar to the roundabout on Renner Road in Olathe, next to the Bass Pro Shop. (Ours won't come with a Bass Pro Shop, I'm told.)
The intersection currently uses plain old stop signs to create a four-way stop. That option isn't likely to be considered for the future. In addition to the roundabout issue, commissioners will be briefed on plans to rebuild the portion of Wakarusa Drive that surrounds the Legends Drive/Inverness Drive intersection.
Plans call for the section of road to be expanded to accommodate a center turn lane. The preliminary design shows two 11-foot lanes of traffic in each direction, the center turn lane, a bike lane in each direction, and a six-foot sidewalk on each side of the street. The section of Wakarusa Drive to be rebuilt would run from the Legends/Inverness Drive intersection south to Oread West Drive. That would tie into the newly rebuilt section of Wakarusa Drive that was completed just a few weeks ago. Construction would take place in the summer and fall of 2014. Preliminary plans call for traffic on Wakarusa Drive to remain open during construction. Traffic on Inverness/Legends Drive would be detoured at times. The project is expected to cost about $2.3 million to $2.5 million, and will be paid for through the city's infrastructure sales tax fund.
It will be interesting to see how commissioners react to a roundabout on Wakarusa, and also how the public responds. Years ago, roundabouts used to be one of the hottest of the hot-button issues at City Hall. I don't hear as much about them these days, but that may be because the more recent roundabouts have been in less prominent locations.
The dual-lane aspect also adds a new twist to the discussion. With the dual lanes, you'll get some signs like the one in the picture below. That will be fun. It is like you get a free Rorschach test every time you enter the intersection.
If commissioners approve this roundabout idea, they may be starting a new roundabout trend. Engineers already have said if a roundabout is approved for this intersection, they likely will recommend a roundabout for the Wakarusa and Harvard Drive intersection in future years.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you remember, I told you $500,000 in city funds would buy a traffic signal. Well, the same amount, city officials are being told, also will buy a pilot project that could bring super-fast Internet service to downtown and parts of East Lawrence.
The folks at Wicked Broadband, formerly Lawrence Freenet, are still working to create their own version of the Google Fiber project that is bringing super-fast 1-gigabit-per-second Internet service to large parts of Kansas City.
Lawrence-based Wicked has now announced the neighborhood that it wants to use for its pilot project. It basically is the area from Sixth Street to 11th Street from Vermont to the Kansas River. That encompasses the heart of downtown plus large parts of the residential portion of East Lawrence. In total, Kris Adair, one of the co-owners of the business, who also happens to be a Lawrence school board member, estimated there are about 1,100 homes and business in the area that would be eligible to sign up for the service.
Before you quit your job and start planning to take over the world with super-fast Internet, there is a still a big question mark with this proposal. Adair confirmed that the pilot project likely won't go forward unless the city agrees to provide the company with a $500,000 economic development grant.
Back in May, we reported that Wicked sent a letter seeking a $500,000 economic development grant from the city for the project. Wicked plans to match the request with $500,000 in private financing. That request, however, has not moved at a super-fast pace. (I apologize, by the way, for getting all technical with you with terms like super-fast.) The City Commission hasn't publicly discussed the request, and it hasn't been the topic for the city's Public Incentives Review Commission, either.
Adair said she hopes city staff members soon will make a recommendation on the project and schedule a hearing for the request at the Public Incentives Review Commission. That would be the first step toward getting the proposal to the City Commission.
There is one other twist that has emerged with this project. Adair gave me a December 2012 City Hall memo that details an offer Wicked made to the city that would have avoided the $500,000 grant request. Wicked officials offered to deed to the city all the company's fiber optic cable and equipment, in exchange for the city taking over Wicked's debt. At the time of the memo, that debt was about $1.3 million.
Wicked officials were promoting the idea as way the city could jumpstart competition for broadband services in the city. Wicked officials suggested the city could rent the fiber optic infrastructure to private Internet service providers, who would compete for business in the city. Or, it was suggested, the city could start its own pilot project to deliver super-fast Internet service to the residents and business. Or, if the city wanted to be really aggressive, it could undertake a project to install the super-fast service citywide. According to the memo, such a project likely would cost about $36 million.
But discussion of Wicked's proposal to deed its business over to the city was never publicly discussed at City Hall. Adair said the company pulled the offer from the table after going six months without having the issue resolved.
We'll see what comes of the $500,000 request. In the meantime, Wicked officials are holding a series of meeting for residents and businesses that are interested in signing up for the service if it becomes available. The first meeting is at 5 p.m. today at the Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania St.
The company also will host meetings at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and on Nov. 14. Both will be at the Cider Gallery. The company also will host a meeting at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Hy-Vee at 3504 Clinton Parkway. It appears the company also plans to offer the 1-gigabit service in a small area of West Lawrence, although I don't have the specific boundaries of that area at the moment.
I'll provide you an update as more details become available about how the city may move forward on this project.