Plus: City commits $1.5M to improvements at 6th and K-10 interchange
State and federal officials are recommending that the west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway be expanded from two to four lanes, with an expanded intersection at Interstate 70 and modifications and upgrades at existing interchanges, including the one at 27th and Wakarusa.
And the Kansas Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration’s preferred choice for the highway expansion doesn’t include toll lanes.
Projects related to the SLT, the 19-mile stretch of highway bordering the city, have been in the works in some form or another since 1990. Federal law required that agencies over seeing the SLT conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to review changes that had occurred since past statements were conducted before expanding the west leg, which runs from the Iowa Street interchange to just north of I-70 at North 1800 Road (Farmer’s Turnpike).
The SEIS recommended what is known as a “capacity freeway” option to expand the trafficway: a 128-foot-wide roadway system that includes two 12-foot travel lanes in each direction, 6-foot inside and 10-foot outside shoulders, and a 60-foot undeveloped median, according to KDOT. It’s estimated to cost $175 million in 2020 dollars, with an estimated maintenance cost of $8 million yearly between 2025 and 2045.
The agencies also evaluated, and decided against, a no-action option that would leave the SLT as it is, with the exception of existing projects, and a proposed tolled highway option that would have kept one lane free for local drivers to use and put a toll on the other lane to allow drivers just passing through the area to more quickly navigate traffic.
Now that the SEIS has been released and the agencies leading the project have identified a preferred option, members of the public have until June 21 to provide public comment on its findings and the capacity freeway option.
Here are the ways you can submit your thoughts:
• A virtual public hearing from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 25. It will include a presentation followed by an opportunity to leave verbal comments. Details are available here, and a link will be provided the day of the event.
• An in-person public hearing from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26 at the Baker University Wetlands Discover Center. There will be multiple presentations and an opportunity to leave verbal comments with a court reporter, who will document them. To follow social distancing guidelines, participants must reserve a time slot.
• A virtual open house will be available at any time via www.slt-ks.org through June 21 for participants to view the materials online and submit comments through an electronic form.
After the 45-day comment period expires on June 21, KDOT and FHWA move into what’s called the “decision phase” of authorizing a highway project.
That process has four steps: collecting the comments from the public comment period, preparing responses to those comments and writing the final version of the environmental impact statement, releasing it to the public, and then announcing the record of decision – which officially authorizes a highway project to move on to more in-depth design, acquiring the land needed and the construction phase, if funds are available.
The latter remains a bit of a sticking point, as the source of funding to expand the west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway has not yet been identified. KDOT says it is continuing to evaluate a range of options to fund the project.
Also of note: 6th Street interchange
Though not directly related to the west leg expansion of SLT, the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday voted 5-0 to commit $1.5 million in local funds to a tangentially related project: the Sixth Street and K-10 interchange. It’s a match of about 11.5% of the total project cost.
Already in the state transportation plan for 2023, and in Lawrence’s long-term transportation plan, officials said the project can be moved along toward construction more quickly if local funding is allocated to it. Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration has been keen on state-local partnerships when deciding which infrastructure projects to greenlight — especially in the transportation sector.
City Engineer Dave Cronin said during the city commission meeting that the state had reached out to see if the city would be interested in allocating the funds for the Sixth Street and K-10 project. He said he thought it would be ideal to also request that the project include an extension of the four-lane arterial street through the intersection of John Wesley Drive in anticipation of future city expansion.
According to a memo from Cronin, KDOT indicated that the Sixth and K-10 project could move forward into the construction pipeline as early as this summer, and the SLT west-leg projects could begin construction as soon as summer 2022.
Vice Mayor Courtney Shipley and Mayor Brad Finkeldei both noted that they would like to see the intersection treated as a gateway to the city, which could possibly include additional aesthetic enhancements at greater cost.6th