South Lawrence Trafficway safety and noise concerns discussed during public forum

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Participants in a virtual hearing about plans to widen the South Lawrence Trafficway Tuesday night expressed concerns about safety, noise and other issues with the proposed expansion of the western leg of the highway.

The hearing followed the recent release of a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Survey (SEIS) by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The survey supports the agencies’ recommendation that the two-lane stretch of the trafficway, also designated as K-10 and U.S. 40, running between the Iowa Street interchange and just north of I-70 exit 197 in west Lawrence, be widened to four lanes as a “capacity freeway.” 

The plan would include 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 “capacity freeway” plan was recommended over two other proposals: building a partial toll road or doing nothing to change that stretch of the trafficway. If funding for the project is obtained, construction would begin in the next couple of years.

Participants in Tuesday night’s virtual hearing submitted typed questions that were answered by members of the project team and KDOT.

The existing stretch of the road, especially just west of Iowa Street, has been the site of many crashes, leading some participants to raise concerns about the safety of the expanded highway. 

One hearing participant suggested that the issue of death on the road is more important than any environmental impacts. 

“The west leg of the SLT, from Farmers Turnpike to Iowa street, is approximately 8 miles long,” the participant began. “From just my recollection of the numbers of deaths over the past years since the opening of the west leg of the SLT, it makes an average of 1 death per year. Is there an 8 mile stretches of highway in the state of Kansas as deadly as this one? Shouldn’t these deaths be more important than environmental impacts? Why has this (taken) so long to address .. people are dying on this road?”

“I can’t necessarily speak to, you know, deaths on the highway related to other highways,” said Brian Carell, the KDOT project manager for this project. “We can probably get back to you on that point.” 

Concerns also were raised about increased noise from the expanded highway. There are about 130 locations on the proposed roadway where noise levels could be greater than 66 decibels, the highest level allowed by Kansas law during the loudest traffic hour. Questions arose about what could be done to lower the noise level.

Project leaders said using quieter pavement is not an option because the FHWA does not allow it due to environmental issues. Once the project is underway, however, the design team can look at different types of pavement to see which would be quietest without harming the environment. Creating berms alongside the highway could also reduce noise levels, but officials said there may not be enough space to build berms.

Questions also were raised about the area around the intersection of the trafficway and I-70, including the park and ride at the interchange and the nearby intersection with Farmer’s Turnpike. Officials said the park and ride probably would not be impacted, and that safety measures such as rumble strips, lighting and a traffic signal could be installed to provide more protection to the Farmers Turnpike intersection.

Many participants in the virtual meeting seemed happy with the project representatives’ efforts to answer their questions. 

“The meeting was very well presented,” said George S. from Topeka. “I am glad to see the No-Toll Alternative is the preferred alternative.” 

More information on all three alternatives being considered for the project can be viewed here

An in-person public hearing will be from 3 to 7 p.m. today (Wednesday, May 26) at the Baker University Wetlands Discovery Center to allow people to view multiple presentations and leave verbal comments. Participants must reserve a time slot to follow social distancing guidelines. As of just before noon Wednesday, there were several time slots still available.

A virtual open house is available online through June 21 for the public to view materials about the project and submit comments through an electronic form. After June 21, KDOT and FHWA will move into the “decision phase” of authorizing the project. More information on this can be viewed here

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