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Business prepares to move to make way for South Lawrence Trafficway; details and speculation about what else the SLT may bring

Construction on the South Lawrence Trafficway is still at least six months away from getting started, but signs of the coming changes already are starting to show up.

The one known business that will have to relocate due to the SLT recently has signed a deal for a new southeast Lawrence location. The business formerly known as RSC Equipment Rental will move to 930 E. 30th St., which is the space that used to be the parking lot and maintenance facility for the city’s public transit buses.

RSC Equipment Rental now goes by the name of United Rentals, after the RSC chain of stores was purchased by United recently. The company rents aerial lifts and other types of construction equipment.

The company plans to use the existing 5,000-square-foot building on the site, but it will undergo about $250,000 worth of remodeling, according to plans filed at City Hall. An employee at United told me the move is likely to happen in the next month.

The business now is at the southeast corner of 31st and Haskell. But soon enough, a new road will run through that location. No, the new road won’t be the South Lawrence Trafficway. It will be the new road called 32nd Street, which will be the local road that will run just north of the SLT. It will replace the thinly paved joy of driving that we currently know as 31st Street.

If you have forgotten about that new street, you probably have forgotten about several others. The South Lawrence Trafficway project likely will produce the most change in the city’s street network of any project in decades. Take a look at the map on this page to see the details. Here’s a reminder of what you are looking at:

• A portion of Haskell Avenue will move about 1,000 feet east of where it is today. Haskell will start making its shift to the east at about the point where it intersects with 29th Street today. In other words, right near where Hiper Technologies is located, or — if you are an old timer — where the Honeywell avionics plant used to be. Haskell will shift back to its current alignment before it reaches the Wakarusa River bridge. (At that point the road is actually called County Route 1055 because it is outside the city limits, for all you geography sticklers.)

• The existing portion of Haskell Avenue between 29th Street and the current 31st Street will remain in place to serve as a frontage road for the businesses — such as the new United Rentals building — that are just west of the existing Haskell Avenue.

• The existing 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana will be removed and the property will be converted back to wetlands. The new 32nd Street — which will be four lanes — will be the local route through the wetlands.

• Louisiana Street south of 31st Street will undergo major changes. The road will be moved a half-mile to the west, in order to get the road farther away from the Baker Wetlands. In other words, if you are driving on Louisiana Street north of 31st Street and want to continue south, you are going to have to turn west onto the new 32nd Street. You’ll take that new road — which turns into the existing portion of 31st Street in the city — for a half-mile. Then you can turn back south onto the new Louisiana Street. The new Louisiana Street eventually will curve back to the east and connect with the existing Louisiana Street (technically E 1400 Road outside the city limits) before it crosses the Wakarusa River. If you are trying to picture where the new Louisiana Street will intersect with 31st Street, it will be just east of the large apartment complex at 31st and Ousdahl.

The state plans to accept bids on the SLT project in September, and construction in the wetlands could be begin this fall. Work on the Haskell and Louisiana parts of the project wouldn’t begin until 2014.

All of these new roads — with the largest, of course, being the new four-lane SLT — will create a lot of question both in the business community and at City Hall. The best way to get a feel for some of them is to go to Google Maps and type in the area of 31st and Louisiana. Zoom in several clicks, and the map will show you the route of the SLT and of the new 32nd, Haskell and Louisiana streets. That map does a good job of highlighting several pieces of property that seemingly will have a lot more development pressure in the near future.

Some properties and questions that jumped out at me include:

• The former Gaslight Mobile Home Park just east of Home Depot. As we have reported, Menards has filed a plan to build a new store on the property, plus have lots for several smaller retailers or restaurants. This is going to be an issue very soon. The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to review the plans in April. In order for the project to be approved, the city is going to have to change its planning documents. The city’s planning documents call for the property to be developed as apartments.

Here’s the question: Will the city stick to those plans when a major retailer clearly wants to be on the site? Now that a new 32nd Street is going to be built just east of the site, the property will be on one of the most highly improved roads in the city. That’s generally where most cities want their retail.

The more political question is whether the City Commission will do everything it can to steer all new retail development to Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence? After all, that is where the city will be investing $25 million for a new recreation center. But Menards has had plenty of opportunities to sign a deal to locate in the existing — and vacant — Mercato development at Sixth and the SLT. Company officials have told the city the site doesn’t meet their current needs. Will the city hold its ground on steering development to Sixth and the SLT, or will it blink?

• The former E&E Display building at 29th and Haskell. That’s a decent size manufacturing/warehouse building with some vacant/underutilized ground near it. When the SLT is built, it really will only be about a minute away from the freeway. I’ll keep my eyes open for some sort of jobs producing deal for that location. If one doesn’t materialize, given its location, economic developers should be asking what’s wrong with our community?

• The vacant ground directly behind Wal-Mart at 33rd and Iowa streets. Until you look on the Google Maps, it is easy to forget about that piece of property. But the map makes it clear that it is one to remember. The ground stretches all the way from the Walmart/Crown Toyota area on the west to the former Printing Solutions building at 31st and Louisiana on the east. The entire piece of property will have great visibility from the South Lawrence Trafficway. As a bonus, the new Louisiana Street will cut through the property as well.

City commissioners talk about the need for planning, but what is the plan for that area? I’m sure there is something in a plan somewhere about that area, but it is an area that hasn’t been talked about by city commissioners for awhile. It would seem — given its location next to major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and others — that the market may have an interest in putting some retail there. Will the city share that interest?

It will be interesting to watch, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one watching. In fact, if you see a tent staked up on that vacant property, that’s my wife. She wants to make sure she doesn’t miss out on any early-bird specials.

A map showing the route for the South Lawrence Trafficway. Courtesy: Kansas Department of Transportation.

A map showing the route for the South Lawrence Trafficway. Courtesy: Kansas Department of Transportation. by Chad Lawhorn

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