City leaders reject grant concept for Lawrence Loop section that would have included new pedestrian bridge over Kansas River

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Lawrence leaders listen to a presentation from city staff during the Lawrence City Commission meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

City leaders on Tuesday decided against approving a grant proposal that could have covered the construction of an incomplete section of the Lawrence Loop near downtown, along with a new pedestrian bridge across the Kansas River.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, the group voted 2-3, with Vice Mayor Mike Dever and commissioners Brad Finkeldei and Lisa Larsen opposed, on the grant concept for the section of the Lawrence Loop from Seventh Street to Constant Park, including the new bridge connecting Vermont Street to North Lawrence. With the proposal’s failure, the city will miss a chance to submit an application for a U.S. Department of Transportation Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant that, if awarded, could have covered the roughly $21 million cost of the project without the need for matching funds.

It’ll be at least another year before the city can try for the grant again. Its application deadline is Feb. 28, and proposals are only considered once a year.

Dever said he feared the proposal had “lost the plot” when it comes to the ultimate goal of closing the Lawrence Loop; the vast majority of the project’s potential cost, according to a presentation from city staff at Tuesday’s meeting, would have come from elements like the roughly $10 million bridge and a roughly $8 million helix ramp allowing pedestrians to ascend from street level to the bridge itself. That’s a notion Finkeldei agreed with.

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.

“If we’re going to spend $21 million to ‘close the Loop,’ I don’t think this really accomplishes that,” Finkeldei said. “I mean, (it funds) the bridge, and it does some other things, but that number one priority doesn’t get accomplished. Once you remove that portion of it, that’s what seems to me needs to go back to the drawing board.”

Larsen was concerned about safety for pedestrians at the nearby street crossings that tend to get congested as they intersect with Sixth Street.

Mayor Bart Littlejohn was supportive of moving the project forward in time for the grant deadline, and Commissioner Amber Sellers said she was voting in favor of approving the grant concept in order to see how the process would play out beyond Tuesday’s meeting.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the grant concept had earned a narrow 3-2 approval from the city’s Multi-modal Transportation Commission, and before that it was approved by a steering committee for the project by a 7-2 vote. The project proposed a narrowed version of the “Kaw River Commons” concept developed by a group of architects, artists and trail advocates called RiverFront & Center a few years ago.

A group of about eight public commenters all expressed opposition to the grant concept at Tuesday’s meeting, with some of them criticizing a “rushed” public engagement process; the project steering committee only met for the first time in November 2023 and held its final meeting on Jan. 31.

Other concerns included the redundancy of a new bridge positioned immediately to the west of the existing bridges between downtown and North Lawrence, which can already carry pedestrian traffic.

Some commenters urged commissioners to consider pivoting from a RAISE capital grant to a planning grant instead, which they said would have allowed more time to study and address concerns with the grant concept on the table at Tuesday’s meeting. But city staff told commissioners that given the change of scope such an adjustment might cause, the turnaround time would’ve meant missing the application deadline regardless.

Ahead of the vote, Finkeldei said he hoped city staff would keep working on the project and return next year with another RAISE grant concept for consideration.

In other business, commissioners:

* Recognized Truman “Bud” Waugh, who has lived in Lawrence for nearly 70 years and for 44 of them has served on the Douglas County Emergency Management Advisory Board and Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Waugh is a U.S. Army veteran who served another 30 years as a civilian as an operator with the Army Military Amateur Radio System, earning the United States President’s Call to Service Award for serving more than 4,000 volunteer hours for his country and community. He also served as an analyst with the Kansas Geological Survey for 35 years before retiring and continues to serve as a volunteer for Douglas County Emergency Management’s Auxiliary Communication and Community Emergency Response teams.

* During a work session, heard a presentation from 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.

Llewellyn told commissioners that the app isn’t new to LDCFM, but the agency is “hard launching” it now. The app is intended to cut down on the time between when a cardiac arrest incident first occurs and when someone begins administering CPR.


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