Lawrence City Commission hears opposition to project to extend road over Wakarusa River

photo by: City of Lawrence

Lawrence resident Steve Cadue addresses the Lawrence City Commission at its meeting June 21, 2022.

Several people and groups spoke out on Tuesday against a proposed project that would extend Wakarusa Drive south of Lawrence through an undeveloped area and build a bridge over the Wakarusa River.

The Lawrence City Commission was set to begin discussions on its five-year Capital Improvement Plan as part of its meeting Tuesday and heard opposition to a 2024 project included in the plan that would extend Wakarusa Drive south of Lawrence through the undeveloped area and connect the roadway to County Route 458.

Referencing the long-debated and contentious South Lawrence Trafficway, Lawrence resident Steve Cadue told the commission that one of the saddest chapters between the City of Lawrence and Haskell Indian Nations University was the issue of the SLT, which he called a fiasco and a catastrophe. He expressed deep concern for the environment, animals, birds, fish and vegetation in the area, and said what happened with the SLT should not happen again.

“We’ve got to avoid that,” Cadue said. “We’ve got to come together better on trying to resolve this situation that is happening with the Wakarusa Extension.”

The current CIP proposal for city staff includes funding for the extension of Wakarusa Drive in 2024 as part of a larger plan to spend $6.5 million on multiple local projects related to the expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. As the Journal-World reported earlier this month, the Lawrence Sunrise Movement, a local environmental advocacy group, has expressed concerns about the project.

Many expressed concerns about the impact of the project on the river, nearby wetlands and wildlife, and some questioned the need for a road extension into an area where the city does not plan to grow in the near future. Lawrence resident Joel Campbell said more consideration needed to be given to the long-term costs and efforts to decrease suburban sprawl.

“Obviously it’s a terrible idea to build a road that goes nowhere,” Campbell said.

Thad Holcombe, of Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, said that the environment was an important element of the most recent comprehensive plan, Plan 2040, but he didn’t see that focus represented in the city’s CIP or in the proposal to extend Wakarusa. He said it would be a disaster for the environment in the area, and that he was surprised and embarrassed to see it on the CIP.

“The Wakarusa Extension is devastating as far as what it does to the environment, to the flora and fauna,” Holcombe said.

The commission will ultimately allocate funding for the 2023 projects as part of the 2023 budget process this summer, with the remaining years serving as a planning document for upcoming budget years. Input from Tuesday’s meeting will inform the city manager’s recommended CIP, which will be included in the recommended budget presented to the commission on July 12.

The commission heard about 45 minutes of public comment about the CIP, including about 10 people who spoke in opposition to the Wakarusa extension. The commission also received several written comments expressing concerns about the project. The commission’s discussion about the CIP was still forthcoming as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.


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