City leaders won’t support Wakarusa Drive extension, but they’re willing to provide $3.6M for other projects

photo by: Douglas County

A Douglas County map shows a proposed Wakarusa Drive extension, the white line running south from Kansas Highway 10, which would connect the roadway to County Route 458.

A Douglas County plan to build a southward extension of Wakarusa Drive doesn’t have the city of Lawrence’s support, but the county may get nearly $4 million of city funds nonetheless.

After hearing from more than 20 area residents who strongly opposed the roadway extension, city commissioners agreed to provide $3.6 million of city money that once was set aside to help fund the Wakarusa Drive extension. But city commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting said they would only send the money as long as the city dollars aren’t used for a Wakarusa Drive extension.

That, however, leaves open the possibility that the Wakarusa Drive extension project will still proceed. County commissioners have said they were interested in moving ahead with the Wakarusa project, even if the city backed away from its financial support for the project.

The city left undecided whether it would provide the $3.6 million of money to the county or to the Kansas Department of Transportation. The city said it would work with both entities to find a project that the city felt comfortable for the funds to be spent on.

Presumably that future project would have some connection to the pending expansion of the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway. KDOT is moving forward with a major project to expand the bypass from two lanes to four lanes. As part of its commitment to fund that bypass project, the city and county were asked to provide about $12 million of local matching funds to help improve the financial feasibility of the project.

KDOT has considered the southern extension of Wakarusa Drive — which would build a new bridge over the Wakarusa River to connect with the county’s road network — as a complementary project to the SLT expansion.

The city agreed to provide its share of the local match in June, but then began having second thoughts about the matching funds after many Lawrence residents began speaking out against the plan to expand Wakarusa Drive.

A majority of commissioners agreed that it was important to uphold that funding commitment.

“I don’t want to send a statement to the county or the state that we don’t hold to our bargains,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said.

Commissioners agreed on a 4-1 vote to provide the funding, with Mayor Lisa Larsen opposed. Larsen said she wanted a stipulation in the agreement that the $3.6 million in city funds must be spent on a mutually agreed-upon project that is inside the city limits of Lawrence.

On Tuesday, commissioners heard more than an hour of comments against the Wakarusa extension for reasons ranging from environmental issues to concerns that the road would damage land that is sacred to the Native American community.

Previously, many county residents have lobbied county commissioners to extend Wakarusa Drive to make access to Lawrence easier for people who live southwest of the city. Many of those residents said the South Lawrence Trafficway project hindered their access to the city after the bypass cut off a rural road that led into Kasold Drive in Lawrence.

Any decision on whether Wakarusa Drive actually will be extended is likely still months away. The project still needs some approvals from county commissioners, and the extension will have to go through multiple environmental studies required by state and federal officials since it will cross the river and cut through a riparian area.


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