$732 million in road projects needed by 2030

Public comment

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office will be taking public comment on Transportation 2030 through the month of February. People can comment by visiting www.lawrenceplanning. org/t2030, where a copy of the plan can be downloaded. The plan also is available at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. People can send written comments to the Planning Department at P.O. Box 708, Lawrence, KS 66044.

Area transportation planners have identified $732 million worth of road projects needed in Douglas County between now and 2030.

The list includes all the usual suspects: a completed South Lawrence Trafficway, a widened Kansas Turnpike, and a new West Lawrence interchange for the SLT and Bob Billings Parkway.

But the list also includes a host of new projects, such as a southward extension of Wakarusa Drive and new turn lanes and other improvements for about 15 intersections on Iowa and 23rd streets.

Now, city and county leaders want the public to check the list. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners are asking for public comment on Transportation 2030, a federally mandated plan that spells out the area’s top transportation needs.

“I feel like we tried to all sit down and objectively come up with a list of projects that would best serve the community,” said Grant Eichhorn, chairman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, which is responsible for approving the plan.

Among the plan’s major projects:

¢ Completion of the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway on a route that would run through the Baker Wetlands. Committee members – made up representatives of the city, county and planning commissions, along with both the city and county engineers – had considered moving the route south of the Wakarusa River to avoid the wetlands. But traffic models showed the southern route would not do as much to relieve congestion on Lawrence streets. Planners have estimated the cost of the project to be $202.7 million.

¢ Expanding the existing South Lawrence Trafficway west of Iowa Street to four lanes to handle increased traffic. Estimated cost: $38.3 million.

¢ Widening of the entire stretch of the Kansas Turnpike through Douglas County to six lanes. The Kansas Turnpike Authority already has started work on portions of that project. Estimated cost: $170 million.

¢ A new interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway where it nearly intersects with Bob Billings Parkway. The long-talked-about interchange is being billed as a new gateway for eastbound motorists wanting a direct path to the Kansas University campus. Estimated cost: included in the $38.3 million to widen the western portion of the SLT.

Intersection upgrades

But several lesser-known projects may provide more immediate relief to motorists fretting about traffic congestion, Eichhorn said. The plan calls for intersection improvements – likely medians and additional left and right turn lanes – for 13 intersections on Iowa and 23rd streets.

“I’m excited about those intersection improvements,” Eichhorn said. “They are smaller cost projects and can be done a little quicker.”

Traffic models clearly showed something would have to be done to Iowa and 23rd streets to prevent major traffic congestion in the future. Planners decided the intersection improvements were more prudent than widening the two roads to six lanes.

“We decided we didn’t want to divide the community with these huge highways that no one would be able to get across,” said Chuck Soules, the city’s director of public works.

Soules said by improving the major intersections on the road, it should cut down on the amount of time it takes for cars to turn on and off the street. That will allow traffic signals to remain green for longer periods of time, he said.

The intersections slated for improvements in the plan are: Sixth, Ninth, Harvard, 15th, 23rd, 25th, 27th, 33rd, and K-10 on Iowa Street; and Kasold, Louisiana, Haskell and Harper on 23rd Street/Clinton Parkway.

The estimated cost to improve all the intersections is $24.9 million.

Looking south

The biggest additions to the plan, which federal regulators require to be updated every five years, may be the host of new projects south of the Wakarusa River.

“There’s a serious recognition that the city will be expanding to the south,” said Keith Browning, director of public works for Douglas County.

Among the major projects south of the Wakarusa River are:

¢ A southward extension of Wakarusa Drive to connect with County Route 458. The project also would include a new interchange with Wakarusa and the SLT. That would allow the current and much-maligned intersection near the YSI Sports Complex to be removed. Estimated cost: $18.1 million.

¢ Widening Haskell Avenue to four lanes from 23rd Street to N. 1100 Road. Estimated cost: $16.4 million.

¢ Expanding portions of N. 1100 Road east of U.S. Highway 59 and N. 1200 Road west of U.S. Highway 59 to four lanes. Estimated cost: $52.7 million.

Finding funding

The biggest question in the plan, however, is how many of these projects actually will get funded between now and 2030.

Funding is the major reason for the plan. In order for a road project to receive federal or state grant funds, it must be included on the transportation plan. But simply being on the list doesn’t guarantee funding.

But Browning, the county’s public work’s director, said he thinks a lot of these projects have a good chance of being built. That’s because the committee spent considerable time coming up with estimates of how much federal, state and local funding will be available to the county in the coming years. Browning said there’s obviously a fair amount of guesswork involved, but he said the group did look hard at past funding levels the county had received.

Keeping the plan financially realistic was the major reason an eastern bypass project – which would involve an expensive Kansas River bridge – wasn’t included on the list of primary projects to be completed.

“It is a meaningful plan,” Browning said. “It is not just words on paper. It is fiscally constrained. It’s doable.”