Decision made to move U.S. 59 300 feet east of current location
It came as no surprise Friday morning when Kansas Department of Transportation officials conducted a news conference from the bypass bridge over U.S. Highway 59 in south Lawrence that the location for the new freeway to replace U.S. 59 would be 300 feet east of the current highway.
"After extensive study of various alignment options and a great deal of public comment, I believe we have made a responsible decision," said Deb Miller, KDOT secretary. "It is essential that we move as quickly as possible to improve the safety of this highly traveled road."
No one argues the need to make U.S. 59 safer. The highway has an accident rate 25 percent higher than similar roads. But the record of decision made by KDOT and the Federal Highway Administration to put the new four-lane freeway 300 feet east of the current road instead of a mile east as had previously been suggested doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people.
The 300 feet east route is costlier at $214 million than the mile east route which was estimated to cost $199 million. The chosen route displaces 33 homes and eight businesses, while the eastern route would have displaced 11 homes and two businesses.
Steve Krysztof, whose family lives just east of U.S. 59 in one of those 33 homes to be displaced, thought it was symbolic that KDOT used the U.S. 59 bridge at the still uncompleted South Lawrence Trafficway to make the final announcement on the decision for the new four-lane, access-controlled freeway.
"I thought it was pretty ironic that they used the bridge to nowhere to make this announcement," said Krysztof. "It really symbolizes the poor decision made on that road and this one. I consider this decision to be equally as foolish."
The freeway will be about 18 miles long and basically parallel the existing U.S. 59 with the exception of bypassing to the east of Pleasant Grove and connecting with I-35 northeast of Ottawa.
KDOT estimates that it will take five years before a contract is let for the freeway's construction. Field survey work will be completed this fall, which will be used to design the location of the road. KDOT expects the location and right-of-way needs to be known by the fall of 2005, when property purchases will begin.
KDOT began environmental studies and conceptual designs to replace U.S. 59 in 1997. There were 17 alternative alignments considered. According to KDOT, the reasons the 300-feet east route was chosen are: proximity to existing U.S. 59 increased the likelihood that the new freeway will be the most effective in attracting traffic from the existing U.S. 59; it creates opportunities for development along the western side of U.S. 59 after it becomes a local access road; there is a potential to incorporate some of the existing right-of-way; and the preferred alignment would not adversely impact the rural setting as much as other alternatives.
The closest locations where the record of decision in its entirety is available for review are the Douglas County Public Works Office, 1242 Massachusetts, and the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont.
Krysztof and others like him are now searching for their own alternatives.
"We've got some time to figure it out," he said. "It's no different than what I thought about it six months or a year ago. What do I think of it today? I'm disappointed. I can't understand how they can spend all that extra money to replace all those homes."