Grant concept for section of Lawrence Loop — including new path across the Kansas River — earns Multi-modal Transportation Commission approval

photo by: Multi-modal Transportation Commission screensho

The narrowed version of a concept plan for a portion of the Lawrence Loop from Seventh Street to Constant Park includes elements like a new walking path across the Kansas River.

A grant concept to fund one of the few remaining incomplete sections of the Lawrence Loop has earned narrow approval from Lawrence’s Multi-modal Transportation Commission.

At its meeting Monday night, the commission voted 3-2 to approve the proposal, which would cover the construction of a section of the Lawrence Loop Trail from Seventh Street to Constant Park near downtown Lawrence, as well as an entirely new pedestrian bridge across the Kansas River from Vermont Street into North Lawrence.

That recommendation will now be forwarded to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval. If the City Commission also signs off on the grant concept at an upcoming meeting, the project team will be able to move forward with submitting an application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant program. The deadline to apply for funds through that program is the end of the month.

According to a memo from city staff, the estimated cost for all elements of the project — including the new bridge across the river, a downtown path, an oxbow lookout and a helix ramp allowing pedestrians to ascend from street level to the bridge itself — is approximately $21 million, all of which would be covered by the RAISE grant without the need for a local match. For communities of Lawrence’s size, according to Department of Transportation standards, the maximum amount a project could receive would be $25 million.

photo by: Multi-modal Transportation Commission screenshot

This rendering shows the main elements of a narrowed concept plan for a section of the Lawrence Loop running from Seventh Street to Constant Park.

All of those elements first emerged as part of a much more complex design concept a few years ago — the “Kaw River Commons” concept developed by a group of architects, artists and trail advocates called RiverFront & Center. The stripped-down version the Multi-modal Transportation Commission voted on Monday night was the product of a recent community engagement process that also included a 7-2 vote of approval from a steering committee.

But both approvals aren’t without some caveats, namely some outspoken opposition to the grant concept from a pair of public commenters that the commission discussed at length at Monday’s meeting. One of them was Sarah Hill-Nelson, the CEO of Bowersock Mills and Power Company, who said she has voiced concern about a potential new bridge’s proximity to the facility for years.

“Not only is it a physical conflict where our trolleys would smash into the bridge — we would not be able to transport our materials — but the liability of running bikers and pedestrians underneath a cable weight that swings in the wind,” Hill-Nelson said. “OSHA (The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) would have a cow.”

Hill-Nelson also expressed dissatisfaction with the public engagement process for the project, and said that stakeholders that operate near the proposed path on either side of the river weren’t consulted.

That was a concern echoed by fellow commenter Nate Clark, who said he served on the Lawrence Loop steering committee as a representative of the North Lawrence Improvement Association.

“After multiple rounds of public comment and steering committee meetings, I believe the proposal before you is a half-baked plan that is the result of a rushed process,” Clark said. “It does not reflect the values and wants of Lawrence citizens, and it is a poor stewardship of federal tax dollars.”

Transportation Commissioner Ryan Reza, who represented the commission on the steering committee, noted that while the majority of the group was in favor of moving forward with the proposal, it seemed that for some of them it was because of the looming pressure of the RAISE grant deadline and not necessarily because of their overall satisfaction with the design concept.

Other transportation commissioners, like Hilary Carter, also noted that pressure while discussing the proposal.

“We have a limited budget from the city for (Capital Improvement Plan) projects, and this is an opportunity to build something at no cost to the city, right?” Carter said. “It’s capital funding, it’s available now.”


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