Douglas County officials host first town hall to get feedback on proposed Wakarusa Drive extension project
photo by: Douglas County
At a town hall meeting on Thursday about a proposal to extend Wakarusa Drive south of Lawrence, area residents shared comments and concerns about the effects on fire and ambulance services, prime farmland, the Indigenous community and more.
The town hall at Greenbush Resource Center, 1104 East 1000 Road, was an early opportunity for members of the public to provide feedback and ask questions about the proposed project, which would extend Wakarusa Drive and build a bridge over the Wakarusa River. About 50 residents showed up to learn more and share their thoughts.
Douglas County public works director Chad Voigt walked the attendees through the basic information about the Wakarusa extension, much of which had already been shared with the Douglas County Commission at a meeting in August, and the attendees also split into small, guided discussion groups to talk about their concerns in greater depth.
The project, which is a partnership with the Kansas Department of Transportation, would require a contribution from the county of about $9 million. At one point, the City of Lawrence was involved in the plans for the project, but it decided in August to back out. The proposed bridge over the Wakarusa River would replace three bridges that existed before the construction of Clinton Lake and Kansas Highway 10, and the county has estimated that the extension of Wakarusa would carry an estimated 3,650 vehicles per day and become one of the busiest county-maintained routes.
However, the extension is also expected to require the acquisition of about 25 acres of land — 70% of which is on private agricultural property and the remaining 30% of which is on federal land managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and some community members have expressed concerns about how the project might affect prime agricultural land in the county, as well as the Wakarusa River and its ecosystem.
Those concerns and others were also brought up by attendees at Thursday’s meeting. Participants in the small-group discussions seemed to widely agree that the project would make it easier for people south of the Wakarusa River to get to and from Lawrence, and that it would improve emergency response times. But some of the attendees also worried about the effects on farmland and whether the Indigenous community had been consulted about the proposal.
On the other hand, some participants wondered why the project hadn’t started already, or how soon it could be completed. And still others wondered whether it might be best to scrap the project entirely and possibly build a new fire station to help with emergency response times in the area.
Voigt answered a few of those questions on Thursday night. As far as the project’s timeline, he said he’s optimistic that construction could start in 2025, given that the Kansas Department of Transportation is “moving aggressively” on getting the project into its planned project pipeline. At any rate, though, Voigt said the county is still very early in the process, which would require, among other things, a detailed environmental assessment and permits from a few state agencies before construction could even begin.
Attendees also wondered about reopening the K-10 intersection at Kasold Drive that was closed in 2018, but Voigt said that wasn’t realistic, because the site had a history of accidents and it’s located at the convergence of three floodways.
“We’re continuing to see that this is the best way to go forward, but those are all great questions,” Voigt said near the end of the meeting. He said the county plans to list the responses to Thursday night’s discussion on the county website.
Voigt also noted that this is just the first of many public meetings about the project. He didn’t mention any specific future meeting dates, but he did say that the project will come up again soon when Douglas County leaders start talking about the next year’s Capital Improvement Plan.