It just sounded like something that would happen to the South Lawrence Trafficway. After about two decades of delay and litigation, the bypass project finally has all the necessary permits and funding to begin construction. Then . . . the federal government shuts down.
I was curious about whether the federal shutdown would have any impact on the start of construction, especially since the first piece of construction is expected to involve work in the Baker Wetlands, which are regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (If you have been out to Clinton Lake lately, you perhaps have noticed the shutdown has reduced the agency to more like the Corps of Engineer, singular, these days.)
But Kim Qualls, a spokeswoman with KDOT, told me recently that the shutdown is not expected to impact any of KDOT's road construction projects, including the SLT.
So, now we can all get back to wondering when the bulldozers will enter the Baker Wetlands, which have been at the center of the environmental and cultural debate that has surrounded the SLT for so long.
Well, no exact date has been set yet, but it likely won't be until November, Qualls said. She said the state has approved the $129.8 million bid from Columbia, Mo.-based Emery Sapp & Sons. (The largest construction project in recent memory in Lawrence, and it goes to a Columbia company. The SLT is going to be good for a twist until the very last drop.)
Qualls said work won't begin until the state has a pre-construction meeting with the contractor, which is set for late October. KDOT also plans to have a public meeting about the project before work begins. A date hasn't been set for the project. Actually, that meeting will cover a trio of state projects, all of them sort of related to the SLT.
The state will provide information about the SLT work itself, including the plans for moving portions of Louisiana Street to the west and Haskell Avenue to the east. And don't forget, they'll also tear out 31st Street and move it a bit to the south.
Maybe we also will get a peek at where the contractor will get the thousands upon thousands of cubic yards of dirt the SLT project will require for fill. That could be interesting because the project will create a large new pond or mini-lake somewhere in the region. I know that one contractor, who did not get the bid, was planning to take fill dirt from the property near the ski lake along Kansas Highway 10 east of town. Leaders with the ski lake were excited about that possibility because there were plans to connect the existing lake with the new lake to create a water skiing complex that perhaps could host more advanced competitions. I haven't received any word yet on whether Emery Sapp & Sons has any plans like those.
In addition to the SLT plans, the KDOT meeting also will go over the plans for a new interchange at Bob Billings Parkway and the SLT, and for new traffic signals at the interchange of Sixth Street and the SLT.
After years of lawyers, journalists and others droning on about this project, it is starting to get very real. While the legal arguments are over, I still predict that when the bulldozers move into the wetlands, we'll all be reminded that there is still plenty of passion surrounding the project.
Other news and notes from around town:
• No, the large number of circus-like tents in downtown's Watson Park is not a sign that the Columbia construction crew has started to arrive in town. (I'm like 70 percent certain that they'll stay in hotels, although big RVs with Missouri spelled with a couple of 'z's" are possible too. By the way, for $129 million, they had better be able to take a few jokes.) The Watson Park tents are part of the large Mother Earth News Fair that will descend upon Lawrence this weekend. As we reported last week, the sustainable living fair is expected to draw 10,000 people during the course of Saturday and Sunday.
I wanted to remind you of that, but also let you know there will be another twist for travelers in downtown this weekend. Massachusetts Street will be closed for a bit on Sunday morning. The portion of Massachusetts Street from 11th Street to 13th Street will be closed from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sunday to accommodate the Lawrence Bicycle Club and its Octoginta ride.
The Octoginta, now in its 44th year, will have lots of bicyclists in town both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, according to the club's Web site, many of them will gather at Broken Arrow Park near 31st and Louisiana to depart on a 30-mile ride throughout the county.
That, however, is just a warm-up for Sunday. Riders will gather at South Park on Sunday morning for an 80-mile ride throughout northeast Kansas.
It will be a big weekend for visitors in Lawrence. Keep an eye out for bicyclists and confused drivers. As a reminder, the portion of Seventh Street that runs through Watson Park will be closed Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the Mother Earth News Fair, and the 600 block of Tennessee Street will be closed from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday to accommodate the event. In addition, the portion of New Hampshire Street just south of Ninth Street will be open only to southbound traffic during the weekend as construction on the adjacent hotel site has temporarily extended into the street.
• You know what would be good to keep an eye on all the confusion and excitement that will happen in town this weekend? A falcon. (Well, I suppose it would be better if the falcon could talk and thus report back on what he sees.) Regardless, I have news about falcons.
A Lawrence attorney has made a request to make it legal for licensed falconers to have their birds in the city limits. Lawrence attorney Terrence Campbell is making a request, actually on behalf of his father-in-law, to change the city law that currently makes Peregrine Falcons a prohibited pet in the city.
Campbell's father-in-law is one of the top falconers in the state. He lives in a rural area but is planning to move to the city and wants to bring his falcon with him. Campbell proposes that people who have a state license to work with the birds of prey be allowed to keep them in the city limits. That licensing process includes a state inspection on the facilities that house the falcons.
City commissioners will receive the request at their Tuesday evening meeting, and are expected to refer the issue to staff for further study.