Take a look at the new 31st Street and rebuilt Haskell Avenue; federal figures give Kansas economy middling rank; BBQ contest this weekend
Perhaps you are like me and you vaguely remember a street — I think it was called 31st Street — that would take you between Haskell and Louisiana. Perhaps you are like me and have had your vehicles filled with a metric ton of concrete by construction crews as you “check” to see if that street has reopened. Well, that portion of 31st Street is not yet open, but a brand new, multimillion dollar stretch is indeed open. And it may be the most unique stretch of street in the city right now.
The portion of 31st Street between Haskell and O’Connell is open to traffic. But this new $4 million section of 31st Street has a much different feel to it than many other new roads. For starters, it is a street that is one lane in each direction, but those single lanes are separated by a median.
In addition, the street continues a new trend of narrow lanes for traffic. The street features 11-foot wide lanes, rather than what used to be the standard 12-foot lanes. The street also has no curb and gutters. Stormwater is meant to soak into the ground surrounding the project, or runoff through natural means. And if you have ever questioned Lawrence’s commitment to being pedestrian or bicycle friendly, drive this street. There is a 10-foot wide multi-use path on the south side of the street and a 6-foot wide sidewalk on the north side of the street. In addition, the street has two four-foot lanes that aren’t technically wide enough to be labeled bike lanes, but they’re certainly wide enough for bikers to use.
Think about this for a second: On the south side of the project there is actually more concrete devoted to pedestrian and bicycle traffic — 10-foot rec path plus four-foot quasi bike lane — than there is devoted to motorized traffic. On the north side of the project it is about a tie — 11 feet for motorized vehicles and 10 feet for pedestrians and bikes. Walking and biking have a lot of environmental benefits, but the amount of concrete used per user is not one of them, at least on this project. I’m not trying to make any judgments here, but rather just asking whether this is the new future for roads in Lawrence?
“We are trying for our new projects to have that more complete street feel,” said City Engineer David Cronin, referring to a design term that highlights the importance of including pedestrians and bicycle features into street designs.
I didn’t use either the rec path or the sidewalk while I was there, but I’m told the sidewalk on the north side of the street goes within about 30 feet of Mary’s Lake, the picturesque city park that is in the area. I’ve been told it will be fairly easy to make a connection between the 31st Street sidewalk and the trail system that runs around Mary's Lake and connects to the Prairie Park Nature Center.
The project also includes another feature that is making a comeback in Lawrence: a roundabout. The new intersection of 31st Street and O’Connell includes a roundabout. Cronin said if his count is right, it is the 20th roundabout installed in the city.
The work on 31st Street is just one small way the landscape is changing in that area. The new Haskell Avenue is also now open. It is a much curvier street than it used to be. It’s alignment is now farther east than it previously was. The road now runs east of the small industrial/office area that was located at the old intersection of 31st and Haskell.
Motorists also have two new traffic lights to navigate. One is at the new 31st and Haskell intersection, and the other is a short block away on a new road called Horizon, which leads into the industrial/office area. That stoplight also is at the entrance to the interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The new Haskell goes south of the South Lawrence Trafficway and connects with the old portion of Haskell — or County Route 1055 — right before the Wakarusa River bridge. The southern section of Haskell Avenue does have an interesting feature that has caused some questions from motorists. There’s a pretty noticeable dip in the road south of the SLT interchange. In a small way it reminds me of my second favorite activity from my re-creations of "The Dukes of Hazzard" — jumping over a country ravine. (My favorite activity, in case you are wondering, is eating BBQ ribs in a pristine white suite and cowboy hat, while jumping over a country ravine.) I will check in with KDOT officials to find out of if the dip is here to stay or what is involved. It is not like your car bottoms out in it, but it is noticeable enough that some people have asked about it.
While I was out and about in the area, I also took a photo of the new College & Career Center that the school district is currently constructing. It is highly visible from the new Haskell. It is adjacent to the Peaslee Tech vocational center that is opening this fall.
As for the opening date for the section of 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana, city officials tell me they are still hearing from the state officials that oversee that project that it will be open around the end of the summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While lawmakers in Topeka were doing the very important work of banging their heads against the newly renovated brick walls of the Statehouse, a new federal report came out that measured the Kansas economy. It gave the state a middling rating.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis released its estimates for gross domestic product growth for each of the 50 states in 2014. That GDP statistics are basically the broadest measure of a state’s economy. The new report found Kansas’ GDP grew by 1.8 percent in 2014, which is less than the 2.2 percent national growth rate, but was a higher growth rate than several in our region.
Kansas’ growth rate in 2014 ranked 21st. The 1.8 percent rate was the best growth rate for the state since 2011, when we had 3.6 percent growth in GDP.
Here’s a look at how Kansas has fared over the years, and also compared to the national average for those years:
2014: up 1.8 percent (National: up 2.2 percent)
2013: down 0.3 percent (up 1.9 percent)
2012: up 0.4 percent (up 2.1 percent)
2011: up 3.6 percent (up 1.4 percent)
This most recent report does rank Kansas’ GDP growth second among the seven states that make up the Plains Region. Here’s a look:
Iowa: up 0.4 percent
Kansas: up 1.8 percent
Minnesota: up 1.4 percent
Missouri: up 0.9 percent
Nebraska: up 0.7 percent
North Dakota: up 6.3 percent
South Dakota: up 0.6 percent
In terms of other border states, both Oklahoma and Colorado had higher GDP growth rates in 2014. Oklahoma was at 2.8 percent and Colorado was at 4.7 percent.
The report also provides information on what parts of the Kansas economy were growing. It does show signs of growth in the much talked about business sector that has been an emphasis of the Brownback administration. Growth in the category of “management of companies and enterprises” added 0.37 points to Kansas’ GDP. That was better than the national average of 0.18 points. The category saw the greatest reduction in Kansas was government activity. It reduced the Kansas GDP by 0.17 points. That was greater than the national slowdown of government activity, which reduced national GDP by 0.2 points.
• Here's hoping I find where my wife put my white suite and cowboy hat because we'll all have a chance to do some barbecue eating this weekend. I’ll again be a judge for the Fire in the Hole BBQ competition. The public portion of the event will begin at noon on Saturday at the Eagles Lodge, 1803 W. Sixth St.
There will be at least eight barbecue teams cooking chicken, beef, pork and other barbecue items. Members of the public can pay $10 to sample a ton of food. Children pay $5. The best part is all the proceeds go to the Douglas County Toys for Tots and the Lawrence Police Blue Santa program, which provides toys, gifts and other assistance to families in need, especially during the holiday season.
As 31st Street closes, Lawrence traffic woes in full bloom; funding battle over K-10 Connector looms
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.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Haskell Avenue may reopen earlier than expected; Dick’s Sporting Goods expected to announce opening date soon
The Haskell Hassle may be over sooner than we expected. If you aren't familiar with the Haskell Hassle, that's the phrase I've coined to describe the traffic mess that has resulted from the closure of a key portion of Haskell Avenue south of 23rd Street. (I thought for sure the Haskell Hassle T-shirts were going to fund my kids' college education. I guess I should have set the T-shirt stand up on a part of the road that wasn't closed.)
Regardless, the word at City Hall these days is that the closed part of Haskell Avenue is scheduled to reopen in July. That's different than what has been reported previously. The city's official infrastructure report warns motorists that the road may be closed until the spring of 2015.
But City Engineer David Cronin has told city commissioners that the latest information he has from the Kansas Department of Transportation is that the road likely will open in July. Even though Haskell is a city street, KDOT is the boss on this project because the closure is part of the South Lawrence Trafficway construction.
This may mean our little trips in the country may be coming to an end. Perhaps those of you on the western side of the city aren't familiar with this, but motorists on the eastern edge of the city have been taking some pretty creative routes to get to the 31st and Haskell area. A popular one has been to take O'Connell Road and then hook up with a gravel road that is officially known as North 1250. Unofficially it is known as the Retirement Plan for Every Shock and Alignment Shop in Town. The road has become a bit bumpy. As traffic congestion has grown at 23rd and Louisiana, this route has become particularly popular for some people in my house looking for a short cut to get to the shopping shrine known as South Iowa Street. (There are also some other routes. Through the cow pasture, cut the barbed wire, hit the ramp at 30 miles an hour to get over the creek . . . wait, I'm probably not supposed to talk about this.)
But don't worry, once Haskell Avenue opens, you'll still have opportunities to take some circuitous routes through Lawrence. That's because, as we've previously reported, the eastern part of 31st Street is set to close once Haskell reopens. Perhaps you are confused: 31st Street is being closed because it is being relocated to the south as part of the SLT project. When it reopens — perhaps in mid 2015 — it will be in its new location, and it won't end at Haskell Avenue. The new 31st Street will stretch all the way to O'Connell Road.
But there will be closures in the meantime. If you suffer from low blood pressure, look at the map below to get a sense of what closures will be in place for probably about a year. Or click on this link to get a larger view.
The takeaway from that map is that my wife is shopping for a four-wheeler with a U-Haul trailer to get back and forth from the South Iowa Shopping district. Cronin said his understanding is that 31st Street between Louisiana and Ousdahl will close sometime in June. The rest of 31st Street between Louisiana and Haskell will close in July, after Haskell Avenue has been reopened. So, you'll be able to travel on Haskell, but you won't be able to turn onto 31st Street. You'll also be able to travel on Louisiana, but you won't be able to turn onto 31st Street.
If you are on the eastern side of the city, you could drive down 23rd Street and turn at Iowa, but you may want to remember that 23rd and Iowa is the site of a major reconstruction project into November. But city officials are still going to encourage motorists to take that route. Cronin said it may not be as bad as you think. During much of the project — but not all — westbound 23rd Street will have two lanes of traffic and one left-hand turn lane open.
Another option Cronin has suggest is to take Haskell Avenue extended to County Route 458 just south of Lawrence. Then take County Route 458 over to U.S. Highway 59, which leads right into the South Iowa Street shopping district.
So, maybe our drives in the country aren't over yet, but I wouldn't count on it. When city commissioners were being briefed on the situation, Commissioner Terry Riordan interjected. He pointed out that 27th Street will still be open. Indeed, 27th Street between Louisiana and Iowa Street will be open. But City Manager David Corliss jumped in and said city officials wouldn't want to do anything to encourage that as a detour. The area along 27th Street is residential, and homeowners there probably wouldn't appreciate the thousands of extra cars per day.
But whether city officials encourage it or not, I suspect residents along 27th Street ought to brace themselves for what could be heavier than normal traffic for the next several months. But don't worry, I'll do my part: I'll ask my wife to put a better muffler on the four-wheeler.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I don't yet have an opening date for Dick's Sporting Goods at 27th and Iowa street, but I'm getting a certain tingling in my cleats that suggests news on that front is coming soon. (I hope that is what the tingling is.)
Actually, I got a note from a Dick's Sporting Goods representative that said they expect to announce the grand opening date for the store next week. That doesn't mean the store is opening next week, but it is probably a good indication that we're only a few weeks away. Company officials have said they'll have a big three-day grand opening celebration that will include a "variety of giveaways and special appearances in-store." I will let you know when I hear the date.