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Update on Sixth and Iowa turn-lane project, plus rumblings of a new chicken wing franchise

As work begins to wrap up on the major rebuilding of Iowa Street, I know you are going to miss the traffic delays that come with the project.

Well, don't fret. Come next spring a portion of Iowa Street will be back in the giving mood, and this time it will impact the thousands of motorists who use Iowa Street and McDonald Drive to access the West Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.

If you remember way back in late-2011, we reported how the city was moving forward on a project to add a left-turn lane on Sixth Street for motorists looking to turn south onto Iowa Street. That project originally was going to be built at about the same time all the major construction was underway near 15th and Iowa streets.

But some design challenges cropped up on the project and forced a delay. Now, there's new information on the timeline for the project. Bids for the work are expected in mid-winter, and construction could begin in the spring. Work would be completed in the summer of 2014.

You'll definitely notice when work begins. One of the first things to happen will be a closing of the two tunnels that connect McDonald Drive to Iowa Street and to Sixth Street. That means thousands of motorists who use McDonald Drive to get onto the Kansas Turnpike will face a detour.

Chuck Soules, director of public works, told me the project is likely to funnel motorists onto nearby Rockledge Road, which will snake traffic around the tunnels and back onto McDonald.

The two tunnels will need to be closed because it was learned midway through the design process that the tunnels need to be extended to support the new left-turn lane on Sixth Street. (Remember, that turn lane is why we are doing this to begin with.)

The extension of those tunnels has added about $400,000 to the price of the project. So what started out as a $900,000 project is slated to be about a $1.3 million project. City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider upping the ante just a bit a more by adding another $100,000 to build a 10-foot-wide sidewalk/recreation path on the north side of Iowa Street. The path would take the place of a more standard six-foot-wide sidewalk.

Originally, this project all was going to be funded by the city, but now a deal with the Kansas Department of Transportation has state dollars coming to the project. As we previously reported, the city is agreeing to take over from the state maintenance responsibilities for part of U.S. Highway 40, which doubles as Sixth Street, in exchange for a one-time payment from the state. Part of that payment is $1.5 million to make improvements at Sixth and Iowa. Given that, staff members are recommending the addition of the 10-foot recreation path. With the path, the project's construction budget is estimated at $1.43 million.

Within that budget are a few added improvements as well. (It is kind of like how the project to get new carpet for the living room turned into wood floors for the dining room and hallway as well. The $100,000 rec path is like the new set of dishes to match the floors. There is always a reason to buy dishes, I have found.) Among the other improvements slated for this project are:

• Iowa Street now will have two left turn lanes, funneling traffic westward onto Sixth Street. Currently, it just has one. To accomplish that, however, the city will change the intersection so that there is only one lane of traffic for southbound Iowa Street, but just at the intersection. It will widen back out to two lanes as you progress southward.

• A dedicated right turn lane for eastbound motorists on Sixth Street turning south onto Iowa Street.

Just as I was told I would be very happy with the dishes, engineers are expecting motorists will be pleased with the intersection. The turn lanes, especially the left-turn lane for motorists on Sixth Street, are expected to reduce delays significantly. Engineers have estimated that the average peak delay will drop to 23 seconds, down from 93 seconds currently.

In other news and notes around town:

• It looks like a once-famous wing on the Kansas University basketball team may be getting into the wing business in Lawrence. As eagle-eye Journal-World basketball reporter Gary Bedore has pointed out to me, Brittany Langford, who is married to former KU standout Keith Langford, has posted on her Facebook page that she plans to open a hot wing franchise in Lawrence. Langford posted that she's been approved by the national franchise Wing Stop to open a restaurant here. No word on when or where, but I've got a message into her, and will report back with any details I receive.

It would be the first Wing Stop location in Kansas. The restaurant has a couple in the Kansas City Mo. area. According to its website, it has 10 wing flavors, including your traditional Buffalo-style hot wings, plus, an Atomic wing, a Louisiana Rub, Lemon Pepper, Garlic Parmesan and a Hawaiian version.

As for Keith Langford, there certainly will be parts of the year he won't be at the location. He's still playing professional basketball in Europe. He's on the roster of Italy's Emporia Armani Milan team, according to the team's website. It looks like its season starts this week.

• There are lots of things the federal government shutdown may get you out of, but exercising apparently isn't one of them. We've reported on several impacts of the shutdown locally, but here is a unique one that we ran into.

The owners of The Summit, the fitness facility at Ninth and New Hampshire, had a couple of members tell them they likely were going to have to cancel their gym memberships because they expected their benefit payments from the Veterans Administration to be impacted by the shutdown.

Scott Elliott, general manager of The Summit, said he and his other partners got to thinking there were probably a lot of people in the area having to make some cutbacks during the shutdown. So, The Summit has decided to give a free month's membership to anyone who has been financially affected by the shutdown. That means furloughs, delays in benefit payments and other such situations. They're doing that both for existing members and people who want to give the club a try. Elliott said the club plans to offer a free membership for every month the shutdown continues. Simply go to the club, tell them your situation, and they'll get you signed up. Elliott assured me the club is not requiring anybody to sign any long-term contracts to join the club after the shutdown is over.

"We're not trying to get people to commit long term," Elliott said. "We would love to have them, but we understand that they are going through a lot of uncertainty right now."

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