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As 31st Street closes, Lawrence traffic woes in full bloom; funding battle over K-10 Connector looms

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A handful of city officials yesterday attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Dick's Sporting Goods Store at 27th and Iowa streets. As they travelled to the store and saw the lines of vehicles backed up at 23rd and Iowa streets due to city construction, I wonder if they had second thoughts about going to an event that featured baseball bats, 2-irons and other blunt objects.

In other words, traffic in south Lawrence yesterday was horrendous, and there were more than a few motorists who were fuming about it.

The project to rebuild 23rd and Iowa streets has been underway for more than a week now. It has reduced traffic to one lane in each direction on 23rd Street, which is bound to cause a certain amount of backlog. But on Tuesday, Lawrence's traffic landscape changed significantly. That's because Tuesday was the first day that a major section of 31st Street was closed. The part of 31st Street west of Louisiana and just east of Ousdahl closed as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project. It will remain closed until probably the summer of 2015. Soon — probably next month — the portion of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana also will close for about a year.

The closure has made a tough situation tougher. At about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, southbound traffic on Iowa Street was a solid line of stop-and-go traffic from 23rd Street to about 19th Street, and it looked like the line was growing as rush hour traffic increased.

Delays on a major street like Iowa are to be expected during large construction projects. But the area that is getting more than it bargained for is on 27th Street. At about 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, there was a line of westbound vehicles that stretched along 27th Street from Iowa through the area where the road intersects with Naismith Valley Park. That is about a half-mile stretch of bumper-to-bumper cars, which is unusual on any Lawrence street, but especially on a rather pedestrian street that cuts through a neighborhood. It also looked like that line was growing at 4:45 p.m.

As we predicted several days ago, it didn't take long for motorists to realize that 27th Street would be one of the prime ways to avoid the 31st Street closure. But now motorists may be realizing that if everybody takes that route, it won't be much of a shortcut. In fact, yesterday, I'm not sure anybody saved any time by going on 27th Street as opposed to just biting the bullet and traveling through the construction zone at 23rd and Iowa.

I talked with Public Works Director Chuck Soules last evening, and he said his department was going to investigate tweaking the timing of the traffic signal at 27th and Iowa. But he wasn't optimistic that was going to help a lot.

"Moving the traffic on Iowa Street is going to have to remain the priority," Soules said.

Soules is urging motorists to approach the situation as if there were a lot of snow in south Lawrence: Plan ahead and give yourself extra time, just like you would if you awoke to a snowy morning. But this is one snowstorm that has some serious staying power. In addition to 31st Street being closed until next summer, work on 23rd and Iowa is expected to last into November.

As for other routes to take, it does get tricky. The city has urged people to avoid using 27th Street as a cut-through route. City officials are still insisting that going through the construction zone at 23rd and Iowa is the most prudent course.

I, however, am not a city official. I'll mention some other routes, but I'm not sure they are good alternatives. This may be just a list of areas where more problems are about to spring up. But here it is:

• If you are heading south on Iowa Street and want to avoid the 23rd and Iowa intersection, a lot of vehicles yesterday were turning west onto 21st Street, which almost immediately turns into Becker Drive on Kansas University's West Campus. You'll wind through the KU Park and Ride lot and land at the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Crestline. There is a traffic light there. If your destination is to get to south Iowa shopping, you could continue south on Crestline until you hit 25th Street, and then reconnect with Iowa. That route has some twists and turns to it. An alternative to Crestline is to go west just a bit and get on Lawrence Avenue. It provides a straight shot to 27th Street, which connects to Iowa. Yesterday, the portion of 27th Street west of Iowa didn't seem to have as many delays as the portion east of Iowa. But beware, that may change.

(By the way, if I am going to give this type of traffic advice, I really do feel like I'm entitled to a helicopter and those really cool headphones, and maybe a neat nickname too.)

• 21st Street east of Iowa also should expect more traffic. It can connect you to Ousdahl or Naismith, both of which can lead you to 23rd Street. Really, it can take you all the way to Massachusetts Street. But be warned, crossing Louisiana Street can be might tricky during arrival and dismissal times at Lawrence High. If you plan to take 21st Street westbound, remember that there is no traffic light at 21st and Iowa, so turning onto Iowa may be difficult. If you plan to turn south on Iowa from there, just know that the hand gesture all your fellow motorists are giving you is not a sign that they think your are No. 1.

• If you are on 23rd Street and trying to head to the south Iowa shopping district, you may be tempted to turn south on Ousdahl. Based on what I saw yesterday, however, you may want to think twice about going all the way to 27th Street. For one, Ousdahl doesn't directly connect to 27th Street. You'll likely end up on Ridge Court. Yesterday, it looked like the only place worse to be than 27th Street was on Ridge Court. Cars were lined up there, hoping that some motorist on 27th Street would take pity and let them in line. There is no light or four-way stop at the intersection. Ridge Court may get renamed Ledge Court because you may be looking for one as long as you may wait on that street. Instead, Ousdahl to 25th may be a better option. Although if everyone starts using it, 25th also will become overwhelmed. Don't take Ousdahl to 26th Street. There is no traffic signal at 26th and Iowa. All you will get there is a good, long view of the Dairy Queen across the street.

• Don't rule out a drive in the country. Wells Overlook Road — also known as North 1000 Road or County Route 458 — is a few miles south of 31st and Iowa. It connects with U.S. Highway 59. That is a bit of a trip, and I, too, am worried about traveling on a road that feels like it needs so many aliases, but it likely will create less frustration. Well, maybe. At the moment, even that route is hard to access, but once Haskell reopens — probably in July — you'll have a pretty straight shot to Wells Overlook via East 1500. To access it today, you'll need to take Louisiana, go to the portion of 31st that remains open, and then connect with East 1500 Road.

• If you are in West Lawrence, you have a great advantage. You can take the South Lawrence Trafficway to get to the south Iowa Street shopping district. Man, I wonder if anyone has thought about building a South Lawrence Trafficway on the east side of Iowa Street?

I'll let you ponder that and other roads, tunnels, dusty paths and whatever else you can find on Google maps. I have other matters to attend to. Come to find out, there is a lot of paperwork involved in filing an expense report for a helicopter.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Days like these bring up the question of how we can reduce the number of cars on the city's streets. Well, the K-10 Connector bus service between Johnson County and Lawrence has been an answer for the past several years. But now it looks like that service could be in some peril.

At their Tuesday evening meeting, city commissioners agreed to follow through on a previously-approved request to provide $120,000 in funding to Johnson County to help cover the approximately $1 million operating budget of the connector.

That money is for 2014. But commissioners weren't ready to make a commitment for 2015. And some commissioners raised questions about whether they should provide funding in 2015. Some clearly were disappointed that leaders at KU and Johnson County Community College have again declined to provide funding for the commuter service.

A ridership survey has again found that students and employees of the two educational institutions are by far the largest users of the system. Johnson County officials agree that it would be ideal if those two schools started paying for part of the operational costs of the system. But Johnson County leaders say they would hate for the service to be reduced or eliminated because those institutions don't participate financially. Almost 160,000 riders used the service in 2013, which JoCo leaders note takes quite a few vehicles off of already busy Kansas Highway 10.

The K-10 Connector, though, has not been well loved by Lawrence transit leaders. The city's Public Transit Advisory Board has recommending not providing city funding to the service. The group has never liked the idea of sending local tax dollars to the Johnson County transit service, which operates the system.

But the route is popular with a certain segment of Lawrence residents. The new survey found that 53 percent of riders are from Lawrence. The rest are largely from Johnson County. Some commissioners did the math, and urged support for the funding. Johnson County is asking the city to consider increasing its support for the system to about $320,000 a year, although that higher level of funding could be phased in over several years.

"You are asking us to get to $320,000 or 32 percent of the route's operating budget, when we have 53 percent of the riders?" Commissioner Jeremy Farmer asked.

Farmer indicated that was a pretty good deal for Lawrence. I think a sticking point with other commissioners is that KU isn't providing operating funds for the service, even though it directly benefits the university. It is easy to see how that might be frustrating, but then again there has long been an understanding that the city provides certain services without being directly reimbursed by the university. Think of police service, fire service and, more recently, millions of dollars in infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports complex. But in turn, KU acts as a major economic engine for the local economy and partners with the city in other ways.

How this one transit route fits into the equation will be determined as part of the city's budget process in the coming weeks.

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  • Comments

    Randall Uhrich 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    And these guys call themselves "city planners".

    Laura Kendrick 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    West bound traffic on 27th street at about 5:15pm yesterday was backed up all the way to the four-way stop at Alabama street. Fortunately I was heading east and, though there was still more traffic than usual, it was moving freely. I wonder what routes the city officials are taking?

    Velma Flory 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    What are farmers to do that live and farm South of town to get to the elevator this wheat harvest? Not go to Lawrence??

    Ralph Reed 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    hmmm

    Sounds like someone from The Guv's office or JOCO West came up with this plan.

    Eric MacDonald 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Brilliant move narrowing 23rd and Iowa to one lane in all directions while closing 31st street. I'm betting the city was as surprised by these two road projects as they were about the need for a new law enforcement center. What can one say about it, really.

    Eric MacDonald 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Call me crazy but shouldn't user fees pay for the bus service? I'm not sure I understand how that is a tax payer funded service at all. Even if the riders fully fund it they are getting a great deal.

    James Howlette 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    If the users were the only ones who got a benefit from the system, that would be a fair question. As it happens, you get less traffic on the roads, too, which is a benefit for people who choose to drive.

    Tara Painter 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    First Haskell, then one lane on 23rd, then Iowa and 23rd then 31st. .. how is anyone from the east side suppose to get to the stores they need! What they needed to do was put up traffic lights at 31st and Louisiana!

    Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    That would have solved everything, but the developers didn't want that. It took them forever, but just watch as more and more apartment buildings, strip malls and big box stores pop up. Traffic wasn't the reason this SLT is being built.

    Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    The SLT is and always has been pork barrel spending for the real estate industry executives that which includes developers and bankers. Then the SLT will be overloaded with more cars and 18 wheelers. Not to mention 23rd street will remain as congested as ever.

    http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/intro.asp

    Logic never backed the SLT.

    Suzanne Jacobsen 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    I haven't driven on 23rd, anywhere near Iowa, since school got out. The last time I was at the 23rd and Iowa intersection, my daughter and I timed the east/west bound signal. For forward moving traffic, it was 25 seconds. If that hasn't been changed to a longer signal time yet, why not? It took us 4 light cycles (starting between Ridge Ct and Osdahl) to get through the intersection. Ridiculous!

    Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    K-10 connector is not a free ride. Riders do pay.

    Then again air travel is quite heavily subsidized yet no one is bitching about that.

    All transportation is heavily subsidized = users are paying quite a lot.

    FYI - One mile of 4 lane road can cost an estimated $1 million tax dollars. That same million tax $$$$$ will provide about 250 miles of shared use paths…. the best bang for the tax buck.

    BTW Twice in May we were in the Chicago area. Gasoline was more than $4.00 per gallon each visit. Some of these new roads will become dinosaurs sooner than later. Do gasoline prices trickle down?

    Best keep the bus people in business.

    New construction and vehicles are large tax dollar budget items. One day people will find it necessary to move closer to work and back to town. http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/intro.asp

    Jay Reynolds 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Here's an idea that won't cost you a cent, Chuck Soules: while the through traffic lights are green, keep all the left turn arrows flashing yellow instead of red at 27th and Iowa. That will help without affecting the Iowa traffic flow.

    Kim Watkins 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Not to mention how this will hurt the businesses around these areas. I work on 23rd St, East of Haskell and only get 30 minutes for lunch...so now, I tend to eat lunch only at restaurants East of Haskell because of all the traffic.

    Curtis Lange 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Look at all those people ignoring a perfectly good right lane in the cover photo to this story. Use both lanes to the merge point, people!

    Ryan Acosta-Fox 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Curtis I agree with your point so much that I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out my years-old LJWorld password before signing up for a new account to just second this.

    For God's sake, use both lanes everyone.

    Mark Pickerel 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    This city is increasingly becoming an un-driveable mess in the summer because we don't want to subject the poor students to this construction. Would it be at all possible to do some of these projects in the fall or spring, so we don't get slammed all at once like this?

    I've lived here thirty years, and this seems to be the worst it has ever been. And the people who live and work here in the summer--pay for this stuff--get the full brunt of it.

    I hear the same excuses every year about "if we didn't do it now", etc. It gets really old. We'll hear the same song and dance next year. My main hope is that, once the bypass is completed, people can finally be able to drive around this nightmare.

    Richard Heckler 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    "Don't rule out a drive in the country. Wells Overlook Road — also known as North 1000 Road or County Route 458 — is a few miles south of 31st and Iowa. It connects with U.S. Highway 59."

    This is among the most efficient choices. I've driven this route many times. While it may seem longer I say it might move traffic more efficiently for those heading to the KC/JOCO areas. Yes I've driven this road many times. Everybody cannot go 23rd street. And everybody cannot go North 1000 rd.

    This North 1000 Road or County Route 458 can probably move traffic as efficient as any choices at this moment. It connects to the 1058 portion of K-10. Going into KC/JOCO make a left onto 1058.

    Julie Burk 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    I think they should rotate shifts and have workers out 24 hours a day on the 23rd and Iowa intersection. That is too big of an intersection to block off while they work 8-5 for the next five or six months, especially with no good alternate route. Getting through town is a nightmare right now.

    Carol Bowen 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Rotating shifts would significantly increase the cost of labor because of night differential and overtime. Also, there maybe safety issues at night with the construction. Supplies may not be available at night causing downtime, another expense. I think that construction is best done during the day.

    Carol Bowen 6 months, 2 weeks ago

    Road construction cost and inconvenience are the consequences of relying on vehicular transportation. It's frustrating, but necessary. The timing would never be good.

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