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Lawrence community leaders raise questions about plan for road and roundabout to nowhere

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Some community leaders are raising red flags over a City of Lawrence and Douglas County plan to build a road extension that they say “helps no one and harms wildlife.”

Courtney Shipley — who is mayor of Lawrence, but who wanted to hold an educational meeting as a concerned citizen Thursday — pointed out that those in attendance were people who should be informed about these issues, but even they were unclear about why this project is happening.  

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Among these informed citizens were Nick Kuzmyak, chair of the Multi-modal Transportation Committee; Mattie Bell, a member of the Sustainability Advisory Board; Michael Almon, of the Sustainability Action Network; and Jim Carpenter, a six-year member of the Planning Commission. 

The Lawrence City and Douglas County commissions have tentatively agreed to participate with the Kansas Department of Transportation so that KDOT will fund the expansion of Kansas Highway 10 — the west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway — to four lanes, a $124 million project. 

Lawrence and Douglas County will pay nearly $14 million altogether as part of a match. About $10.3 million of that is to extend Wakarusa Drive south to County Road 458, or North 1200 Road. Wakarusa currently ends at approximately 27th Street, where it meets the South Lawrence Trafficway, and the extension would add about a mile and a half of road.

It would also add a roundabout with a short portion of road that would extend to the west, then stop. And the extension of the road further south would require a bridge over the Wakarusa River.

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Formal agreements between the city/state and city/county agreements will still come to the Lawrence city commissioners at a future meeting, according to information in their May 17 meeting agenda

But the Lawrence City Commission approved a complex, three-part agenda item May 17 on a vote of 4-1, with Shipley opposed: 

• Authorize the city manager to submit a commitment of participation letter with Douglas County to the Kansas Department of Transportation for $13,920,500 in local funds for the South Lawrence Trafficway Project.
• Authorize staff to draft a local funding agreement with Douglas County.
• Revise the 2022-2026 capital improvement plan to amend the details of the Wakarusa extension project to “South Lawrence Trafficway Improvements,” including improvements on Wakarusa north of K-10 and East 900 Road. 

County commissioners approved the plan the following night. 

Carpenter said the project was not something he’d seen. 

“There are no area plans that are incorporated in the Plan 2040 that cover this particular strip of land,” he said, referencing the city’s long-term planning document. “So it’s not something that’s ever been in front of the Planning Commission.” 

Shipley had concerns about why this project is happening the way it is. 

“You create a road through a system of very opaque meetings and no one understands why, it is fair for us as people of the public and taxpayers to ask why we’re doing that. And it is not even clear to me, and I’m at the top of the game,” Shipley said. 

And “The fact that people in the transportation commission didn’t understand what’s going on is not good,” Kuzmyak said.

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Shipley also said the county has not yet had the opportunity to identify green space that needs to be protected as part of its open space planning, but this could be one of those areas. 

Bell also said that the bridge over the Wakarusa River could cause pollution, runoff into the river, and disruption to the wildlife in the area. 

People don’t want to say no to things we know we need, Shipley said, referencing the expansion of K-10 — though she said she didn’t necessarily agree with that point of view. 

“This has a long-term consequence but I don’t think people can see right now,” she said. 

Shipley said she would encourage anyone with concerns to reach out to city and county commissioners about the project. 

The next opportunity to give public comment to the Lawrence City Commission about an agenda item connected to this project will likely be June 21, when the commission receives the 2023-2026 capital improvement plan. Lawrence City Commission meeting agendas are available via this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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