Changes will address safety and traffic concerns at intersection of SLT and Wakarusa, KDOT official says
photo by: Elvyn Jones
Changes coming next year will improve safety and traffic jams on a troublesome intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway, Kansas Department of Transportation engineers told Lawrence city leaders Tuesday.
As part of its regular meeting, the Lawrence City Commission received updates from KDOT on the upcoming project to expand the SLT. They were also briefed on interim safety improvements to the trafficway’s intersection with 27th Street/Wakarusa Drive, which continues to be a common site for accidents and bottlenecks.
KDOT engineer Aaron Frits told the commission that the changes, which were determined using input from community meetings and city and county staff, would provide solutions until that portion of the SLT is redesigned. KDOT decided this summer that it would pursue either a freeway or tolled freeway option, depending on what local governments requested.
“Because we know the freeway or the tolled alternative, whatever that looks like, is off in the future, and we have heard over and over at public meetings concerns about safety, concerns about capacity, concerns about backups,” Frits said. “And we took those very seriously.”
In the meantime, KDOT hired design consultant WSP USA to study low-cost safety and traffic flow improvements at the intersection, according to a memo to the commission.
WSP representative Dave Church told the commission that at peak traffic, cars get backed up for more than a mile near the intersection. In response to questions from Mayor Lisa Larsen, Church said that a new adaptive traffic signal has already been installed and has been able to decrease those backups by about half.
In addition to the new adaptive signal, plans call for “No Turn on Red” signs for the eastbound and southbound legs of the intersection; widening and extension of the westbound SLT right turn lane; addition of a 27th Street right turn lane; and a new location for the pedestrian crossing on Wakarusa Drive. There are several other changes meant to improve traffic flow, including pavement markings, signage, and raised delineators on 27th Street and Wakarusa Drive that restrict motorists from making certain turns, according to the plan.
KDOT is funding the improvements, and construction is scheduled to take place in spring 2020. City staff members state in the memo that they support the improvements and that they will continue to work with KDOT to monitor the traffic flow following construction.
As part of the meeting Tuesday, Frits also presented a list of other safety improvements planned for the SLT corridor. Those changes include lights at the intersection of K-10 and the Farmer’s Turnpike/County Road 438; rumble strips at the K-10 and I-70 interchange; and warning sign systems. He said those improvements would also be installed in 2020.
KDOT began a three-year environmental impact study on a lane expansion project for a portion of the trafficway in September 2018. The portion of the SLT east of Iowa Street is a four-lane divided highway, but the road changes to a two-lane highway west of Iowa Street. As the Journal-World previously reported, the freeway or tolled freeway would be a median-divided, access-controlled road with either four or six lanes. At-grade intersections, such as the one at 27th Street, would be replaced with ramp access.
Frits also provided the commission an update on the status of the environmental impact study for the SLT expansion project. He said KDOT continued to study tolled and nontolled freeway options and would be holding focus groups, convening an advisory group and conducting surveys of Johnson County, Douglas County and Shawnee County residents. He said KDOT would continue to share information with the public as soon as it is available.
In other business, the commission authorized the police department to enter into a five-year contract with Axon Enterprise Inc. for $1.26 million to purchase body cameras for the department. The purchase will be funded in part by a $231,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The contract covers the purchase of 154 body cameras and associated software and hardware and will outfit all members of the police force with cameras.