Baker pitches new SLT plan
Baker University and the Kansas Department of Transportation are one step closer to finding a solution regarding the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Baker and KDOT officials have tentatively agreed to an $8.5 million package that would allow the SLT to be built through the university's wetlands along the 32nd Street route.
If completed, the trafficway would connect Interstate 70 northwest of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. The western nine miles of the trafficway have been completed and are open.
Still undecided in the recent agreement is how much land would be restored to the wetlands to compensate for the 65 to 100 acres that would be lost to the completion of the SLT.
KDOT Chief Counsel Mike Rees said the proposal officials had been discussing allowed for approximately 700 acres of new prairie, wetlands and wooded area.
But Baker recently introduced a new proposal to KDOT, Rees said, reducing the amount of land to allow for only 300 acres of new wetlands.
Baker president Daniel Lambert said the university's goal was to make sure there would be enough land to act as a buffer so nothing else could encroach on the wetlands.
"We feel it's critical any agreement includes land to buffer our wetlands," Lambert said. "We feel this agreement would do that."
Baker opted for fewer acres of property, he said, to enable the proper care and maintenance of the wetlands.
"All of that (700 acres) couldn't have been converted into wetlands," he said. "There's just not the significant funds to do that."
Instead, under Baker's plan KDOT would budget about $1 million less for land purchases and give the university an extra $1 million for wetlands maintenance. It would also enable Baker to establish a $3 million annuity to fund continued maintenance of the area.
"The wetlands are there because the university has invested our resources in it," Lambert said. "Now we'll have the funds for it to sustain itself."
Also included in the new proposal, Rees said, Louisiana Street south of 31st Street (East 1400 Road) would be moved a half-mile west of its current location.
Both proposals call for Haskell Avenue south of 31st Street (East 1500 Road) to be moved a quarter-mile east of its current location, he said.
"So you have that whole area between the two streets for wetlands area," he said.
Other features that would be included in either plan are:
A $60,000 relocation of the Baldwin water line and a Rural Water District No. 4 water line buried in the wetlands.
A boardwalk to replace the existing one that would be dismantled as part of a 32nd Street route for the trafficway.
A primitive camping area east of where East 1400 Road intersects with the Wakarusa River. The campground would be located on wooded property created by an oxbow in the river.
$375,000 worth of hike and bike trails designed to easily connect the study center with the city's Prairie Park Nature Center.
Three new parking areas, one near the campground, one near the East 1500 Road and Wakarusa River intersection and one north of the river, to improve wetlands access.
Lambert said the additions and improvements to the wetlands won't just benefit Baker.
"By far, the largest beneficiary, in my judgment, will be the people of Kansas," he said. "This is an investment in a facility that will serve the people."
Rees said he liked Baker's proposal and agreed many people would benefit from the changes.
"This is going to be something everyone can be proud of," he said. "The wetlands are going to remain and they are going to be protected."
Rees said KDOT plans to submit both proposals to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in order to get public comment on them as part of the ongoing environmental impact statement process.
The corps will have the final say in which mitigation plan is chosen.
But he said he's believes the corps won't have any problems with the proposal.
"I don't think there will be any problem with it," he said, "especially since Baker will maintain it."