Lawrence leaders could approve grant concept for river-crossing section of Lawrence Loop

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

At this week’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, city leaders will consider approving a grant concept that could help fund an incomplete section of the Lawrence Loop.

On Tuesday, commissioners will hear more about the proposal, which would cover the approximately $21 million cost of construction for a section of the Lawrence Loop Trail from Seventh Street to Constant Park, along with a new pedestrian bridge extending across the Kansas River from Vermont Street into North Lawrence.

If approved, the project team can submit an application for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant program, which has a Feb. 28 deadline. It’s the narrowed version of the “Kaw River Commons” concept first introduced by a community group called RiverFront & Center a few years ago, which would have included not just one but three bridges across the river and multiple helices that bring pedestrians to elevated crossings on the south side of the river.

The city’s Multi-modal Transportation Commission voted 3-2 to approve the concept earlier this month, as the Journal-World reported. The proposal plans for other elements like a river path, a downtown path, an oxbow lookout and one helix ramp allowing pedestrians to ascend from street level to the new pedestrian bridge.

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.

At that meeting, a couple of members of the public — including Sarah Hill-Nelson, the CEO of Bowersock Mills and Power Company, which operates right off the river dam to the east of the existing bridges — expressed concern about how the project might affect the company’s operations. But following the meeting, city staff reached out to the Journal-World to note that some of the concerns expressed at that meeting don’t reflect the current version of the plan.

City spokesperson Maureen Brady told the Journal-World last week that when the city became aware of one of Hill-Nelson’s concerns about a potential new bridge’s proximity to the facility, staff met with Bowersock Mills and Power Company representatives to review the conflict and remove a concept of bridging over the dam from the grant application. Hill-Nelson also expressed safety concerns about a version of the project not reflected in the current concept.

“This path was removed from the grant application prior to the second public meeting and third steering committee meeting,” Brady said. “The city has processes in place to review project plans and would never promote any concept that would endanger the community or violate safety standards and regulations.”

Another concern expressed at the meeting was that the community engagement process for the plan was rushed. Brady said that process included an online comment form, two public open houses and three steering committee meetings including stakeholders with the Multi-modal Transportation Commission, Friends of Lawrence Area Trails, Downtown Lawrence Inc., Friends of the Kaw, the city’s Historic Resources Commission, multiple neighborhood associations and more.

Brady added that it was unknown which property owners might be directly impacted by the project from the start of the planning process because it didn’t begin with any assumed alignments, but rather a variety of possible concepts the steering committee narrowed down based on public feedback. That group approved the grant concept by a 7-2 vote, and Brady said it also received majority positive feedback as indicated in responses received from the city’s second public open house and online comment form.

In other business, commissioners will:

• During a work session, hear an update from staff including Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Rich Llewellyn about PulsePoint, a 911-connected app that can immediately inform users about emergencies occurring in their communities and request their help when CPR support is needed nearby.

According to a presentation included with Tuesday’s agenda, the app is intended to cut down on the time between when a cardiac arrest incident first occurs and when someone begins administering CPR.

Commissioners take no action on items presented during work sessions.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. A live stream of the meeting can also be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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