State funding for SLT expansion still a priority for Amyx as Legislature wraps up 2019 session without it

photo by: Journal-World FIle Photo

The west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway, looking northwest from the Iowa Street junction, is shown in this file photo from June 2017.

With his first legislative session almost in the books, state Rep. Mike Amyx, D-Lawrence, said his main priority of finding funding for the expansion of the South Lawrence Trafficway has not changed.

“That is still the highest thing I’d like to get done,” he told the Journal-World on Tuesday.

The state previously expanded parts of the highway in the Lawrence area from two lanes to four lanes, but the west leg, from the U.S. Highway 59/Iowa Street interchange to North 1800 Road, has remained two lanes. Wrecks on the western leg of the highway have spiked in recent years.

“The safety concerns I still have about the roadway are very real,” Amyx said.

KDOT to paint new lines on western leg of SLT

Drivers on Kansas Highway 10 may experience delays on the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway later this week while lane markings are repainted.

The Kansas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday its plan to repaint the lines from the Kansas Turnpike overpass on the west side of Lawrence to the U.S. Highway 59 overpass on the south side of Lawrence.

A vehicle painting the lines is expected to be slowly moving in one direction on K-10. Once one side is finished, the vehicle will switch sides and continue painting in the other direction.

The project is expected to last from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. No traffic lanes will be closed for the project, but KDOT asks drivers to find alternative routes to ease congestion on the roadway.

In April, KDOT officials told the Lawrence City Commission that the agency did not know when the project would begin, noting a lack of funding was the main issue.

Amyx said he agreed with the assessment, but finding the funding is the hardest part of the project.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Legislature convened to wrap up the 2019 session. While the lawmakers considered overturning vetoes that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly recently made, most of the state’s business was already finished for the year.

The state providing the funding for the SLT project won’t be happening anytime soon because that budget, which Kelly signed into law on May 20, did not include any funding for the project.

While Amyx was not able to get funding for the SLT into the state budget this year, he said his first session in Topeka helped him understand the bill-making process better and he was able to get to know the right people to work with on SLT in the future.

“Now I’ve got the first session under my belt and I’ve had the opportunity to meet people,” he said. “It’s about building relationships and trying to get the help that is necessary to get these projects moving along.

Amyx said he would need to reach out to several lawmakers next session to help drum up support for the funding.

“It’s not going to be a one legislator who’s going to be able to do this; it’s going to take everybody on board to be able to do it,” he said. “Hopefully there will be some people who are willing to step up and say these projects are important throughout the state and be able to take care of them. We’ll see.”

KDOT began a three-year environmental impact study on the lane expansion project in September, and the project team is currently reviewing six initial options. Those include not adding lanes to the western leg of the trafficway but making other improvements; expanding the western leg to either four or six lanes; and turning the trafficway into a toll highway to fund the lane expansion, according to a memo to the City Commission from KDOT engineer Aaron Frits.

The city has long advocated that the state fund the expansion of the western leg of the trafficway, and the commission is officially against using tolls as a means to fund the expansion. That position was included in the city’s 2019 Legislative Priority Statement.

KDOT told the commissioners it was not pushing for tolls but was just listing them as an option. Amyx said he would focus on keeping tolls off the trafficway.

“I know as we go through the process, there are a lot of things to take into consideration,” he said, referring to KDOT’s study. “I want it to be a roadway to be free of tolls, but it is something I’m sure there will be discussions in the future about that.”

Amyx plans to bring up discussions on the project when the Legislature returns next January for the 2020 legislative session. He is considering proposing a highway funding bill that would move the SLT project to a priority in the state and provide funding for other state projects.

“I think when I consider the safety issues over everything else about it, I think it’s so important we get that roadway built,” he said of the SLT. “It’s time to approach that immediately.”

But when lawmakers discussed road projects in February, Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, and chairman of the Kansas House Transportation Committee, said new transportation improvement projects may be in the back of the line of 21 other state road projects that were previously approved but had yet to be funded.

“If we don’t complete those, why would anybody believe that any new plan would work or that we would follow through with the projects promised?” he said. “We need to show we will complete them.”

Amyx said he may be selfish because the SLT is in his district, but the safety concerns of the trafficway should make it a priority for the state.

“I believe, personally, ours is the number one project that needs to be funded,” he said. “It is something that is extremely important, not only to Douglas County, but to the whole region.”

Contact Dylan Lysen

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