Lawmakers create state transportation plan that could lead to South Lawrence Trafficway expansion

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas Highway 10, or the South Lawrence Trafficway, is shown at the U.S. 59 Highway/Iowa Street interchange in this file photo from June 2017.

Legislation creating a statewide transportation program that could ultimately fund widening on the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway is headed to Gov. Laura Kelly’s desk.

Lawmakers on Thursday passed the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Plan as they scrambled to put together a bare-bones budget in case the coronavirus pandemic requires them to adjourn for an extended period of time.

The transportation legislation was approved 112-3 in the House and 37-2 in the Senate. Kelly is expected to sign it because it contains her proposals to use existing funds to pay for $1 billion a year in new projects for 10 years and to pick projects every two years, rather than all 10 years’ worth at the start. The measure also ensures that $300 million worth of projects can be expedited with a fast-track, designing-while-building process to get a few big ones moving.

Under the legislation, Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz has the authority to pick construction projects dedicated to revamping Kansas highways and direct necessary resources to completing them. Expanding to four lanes the portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway west of Iowa Street is expected to receive funding consideration, a local lawmaker said.

“This is the program that sets in motion what could ultimately be the funding for the final expansion of K-10 or the South Lawrence Trafficway,” Rep. Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, told the Journal-World. “It has not been selected, but it is a project that was talked very highly about.”

In fact, KDOT already has begun significant planning work on the project. In September 2018, state engineers began what is expected to be a three-year, federally-required study to assess the environmental impact of expanding the trafficway to at least four lanes. As part of that process, engineers have developed several preliminary designs for the expansion.

KDOT leaders have said traffic safety data has them interested in widening the road. The newer eastern half of the trafficway already is four lanes with a divided grass median. The older western leg of the trafficway, however was built as a traditional two-lane state highway.

The long-delayed eastern leg of the trafficway opened in November 2016. Upon completion, traffic volumes on the western leg of the trafficway — which runs from Interstate 70 northwest of Lawrence to Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence — more than doubled. A review by the Journal-World in December 2018 found that 53 accidents happened on the two-lane stretch of road in the first 20 months that the entire trafficway had been open.

The widening project will face competition from other projects across the state. Early last year, the Journal-World reported that there were 21 projects totaling $500 million that were included in the previous transportation plan but not yet completed.

“If we don’t complete those, why would anybody believe that any new plan would work or that we would follow through with the projects promised,” Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, and chairman of the Kansas House Transportation Committee told the Journal-World at the time.

A timeline for when KDOT may make a decision on the SLT project — and when work could begin — is unclear. Regardless, Amyx said passing the comprehensive transportation plan is an exciting step toward making real traction in moving the project forward.

“We need to see what KDOT establishes in their timeline,” Amyx said. “There are a lot of things to be considered in this.”

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