Discussion of more signs for Kasold-SLT intersection on tap; thoughts of a Crossgate Drive interchange for the SLT
Perhaps there is a yin and yang involved with the South Lawrence Trafficway. As arguments die down with the opening of the long-debated eastern leg of the trafficway, new ones rise on the western leg of the trafficway. Lawrence’s world is not in balance if we don’t argue about a road.
I do have a couple of updates on debates that are brewing on the western portion of the the SLT, which is the part of the road west of Iowa Street: A county official has confirmed a meeting has been set with KDOT officials to discuss ways to improve safety at the Kasold/SLT intersection; and a Douglas County resident has begun pitching a new multimillion dollar plan to improve the safety of the road.
First, the meeting: Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning confirmed that a meeting between county officials and Kansas Department of Transportation officials has been set to discuss how to improve the safety of the intersection of the SLT and what is commonly called Kasold Drive, although it actually is county road East 1200, but it aligns with Kasold.
The intersection was the site of a multivehicle, injury accident last week. Although it is just one accident, tensions are raised around the intersection. There is a fear more are to come because the accident occurred shortly after the intersection was configured to become a right-in, right-out only intersection. It also occurred shortly after traffic volumes increased significantly because of the opening of the east leg of the SLT.
Residents of southern Douglas County have contended that the intersection is a vital link to the western part of Lawrence. Some have argued that a traffic signal should be put at the intersection. Browning worked to douse those hopes when I talked with him. He said the upcoming discussion with KDOT — which he said would happen “very soon” — won’t be to discuss a traffic signal. Instead it will discuss adding more signs to make it clearer that the intersection is right-in and right-out.
Browning said more signs could be useful, but he stopped short of saying the intersection is confusing without them. The intersection is marked with double yellow lines, which are illegal to cross, and the configuration of the intersection naturally makes it difficult to go straight across the SLT. (Anybody doing so would have to first turn right and then turn back to the left in order to cross.)
Browning’s main message is if you are thinking of trying to cross the SLT — technically Kansas Highway 10 — at Kasold, don’t do it.
“It is hard for me to imagine that people think crossing K-10 at Kasold is now a safe alternative,” Browning said. “I can’t comprehend that.”
But, additional signs making that clear would not hurt anything. KDOT has placed a large, temporary electronic sign just north of the intersection alerting motorists that only right turns are allowed at the intersection.
What type of permanent signs may be put in place is one question. The bigger question, though, is how many wrecks will it take at the intersection before KDOT goes back to its original thinking, which was that the intersection should be closed entirely?
That brings me to the second update: an idea for a new multimillion dollar interchange that would make the Kasold intersection unnecessary. The idea is being floated by Lawrence businessman Frank Male. He is the owner of a landscape company that has a facility just south of the Kasold and SLT intersection.
Male also is active in county politics, and he indicated to me that he is going try to start lobbying support for a new plan that he hopes could be implemented in a few years. The idea essentially is a Crossgate Drive interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Crossgate is the next major street west of Kasold Drive. Male is proposing that Crossgate Drive be extended southward to connect with the SLT. Instead of connecting with an intersection, Crossgate would connect to an interchange with on and off ramps. South of the SLT, a new road would be built to connect Crossgate to the existing county route of East 1150. The East 1150 road already has a bridge across the Wakarusa River and already connects with County Route 458.
The debate here is probably not whether another interchange is needed for the South Lawrence Trafficway but where it ought to be. Douglas County officials, as we have reported, already have begun planning for the day when there would be an interchange at Wakarusa Drive, near the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex. It also would extend to the south to connect to County Route 458. The county already has put the project on its long range capital improvement plan. It estimates it would cost about $8 million just to build the local roads. KDOT would be responsible for building the actual interchange, and that easily could be more than $10 million.
Male’s lobbying efforts likely will be to get the county — and to a degree, the city because it likely will be asked to share in the cost — to consider Crossgate Drive. Male said the big selling point for a Crossgate alignment is that it could use the existing Wakarusa River bridge on East 1150. The Wakarusa alignment would require a new bridge in order to connect to County Route 458.
Male may have his work cut out for him to get the county to change its mind. Browning said the point about the bridge is a valid one, but he said the wide floodplain near a Crossgate alignment may make building a road more difficult and expensive there. Plus, he said Wakarusa Drive just seems like a more natural fit as a western entrance into Lawrence. It puts the interchange closer to the entrance to the Youth Sports Complex, which is a major generator of traffic during certain times of the year. Under Male’s plan, a frontage road would be built from the Crossgate interchange to the sports complex.
Whatever the case, don’t expect an interchange to emerge anytime soon. Browning said the environmental study required for KDOT to undertake a project of this nature likely would take about three years. Then there is the question of where KDOT would get the money to build the project. Then there is the question of whether the city of Lawrence would contribute any money to help pay for the local portion of the project.
All of that could lead to several more debates.
With the trade deadline approaching in Major League Baseball, maybe City Manager David Corliss also can moonlight a bit as the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. Corliss is in a deal-making mode.
After months of wheeling and dealing on the public-private partnership for the Rock Chalk Park project, Corliss now is sharing details of a proposed swap he wants commissioners to consider making with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The gist of the deal is that the city of Lawrence will relieve the state of any financial responsibility to maintain the portion of West Sixth Street between Iowa Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence.
Currently, the state has some maintenance and financial responsibilities on that stretch of street because in addition to being Sixth Street, it also serves as U.S. Highway 40.
Under the proposed deal, the U.S. Highway 40 designation will be dropped, and the state’s maintenance responsibilities will be eliminated. In exchange, the state will provide about $3.5 million in one-time funding for the city to undertake several other street projects in the city.
Is this a good deal? I don’t know. It doesn’t solve the Royals’ need for a power-hitting right fielder, but it does give the city funding to tackle several road-related projects. They include:
• $1.5 million to make turning lane improvements at Sixth and Iowa streets.
• $1 million to help defray the city’s expense to improve the intersection of 23rd and Iowa streets, which is a major rebuilding project scheduled for 2014.
• An approximately $500,000 reduction in the amount of money the city and the county will have to provide to KDOT as part of a new interchange that will be built on the South Lawrence Trafficway where it intersects with Bob Billings Parkway
• $500,000 to help the city install traffic signals at two intersections that likely will need them in the near future. Those are Sixth Street and George Williams Way, which will be the major entrance into Rock Chalk Park; and Sixth Street and Champion Lane, which is an entrance into the Bauer Farm Development in front of Free State High.
Several of these projects the city already had budgeted to complete, so Corliss is proposing that those budgeted dollars be shifted to other projects. Think of it like a player-to-be-named later. It's not a second baseman who can hit, but the projects are significant nonetheless. They include:
• $1.5 million to be used for acquisition and design of a possible new police headquarters building. The $1.5 million would be just the initial funding needed for what has been projected to be about a $20 million project. Commissioners haven’t committed to a timeline for that project, but have expressed some interest in securing a possible site for the facility.
• $325,000 for the city to use as its match on a federal/state grant to restore the Santa Fe Depot in East Lawrence.
• $275,000 for a new traffic signal at Bob Billings Parkway and George Williams Way, which will be just east of the new South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway interchange.
• $400,000 for the city to expand the city’s ring of fiber optic cable around the city.
As for what KDOT will be getting in this deal, it won’t have to participate anymore in projects to repave or rebuild the portion of Sixth Street between Iowa and the SLT. Corliss is estimating that the state pays the city about $40,000 per year for that section of roadway. I haven’t chatted with Corliss about how he’s quantified that number, but it is a little difficult to ascertain just how much the state may spend on that section of road during any given year.
The city is allowed to apply for state grants through its KLINK program, which provides funds to cities for city streets that also serve as state highways. The grants never pay for all of the work to resurface a road, but they do chip in a significant amount. For example, the city this summer will repave the section of Iowa Street, which also is U.S. Highway 59, from 29th Street to the southern city limits. That approximately one-mile stretch of road will cost about $435,000 to repave. The state will provide a $200,000 grant for the work.
Once the state removes the U.S. 40 designation from this four-mile section of Sixth Street, that portion of road won’t be eligible for the KLINK grants in the future.
So this trade, just like a baseball trade, probably will come down to performance: How well will West Sixth Street perform in the future? How much maintenance will it need? City officials believe now is a good time to make the deal because the section of Sixth Street has undergone several improvements in recent years that should limit its maintenance needs in the near future.
Commissioners will discuss the possible agreement with the state at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.