Archive for Thursday, May 28, 2009

Roberts touts SLT as component of high-tech corridor for state

May 28, 2009

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is renewing his push to finance completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, and to get there he’s calling on some high-tech assistance from some high-profile projects.

Roberts, R-Kan., wants the federal government to pump $5 million into speeding development along what he calls the “Kansas High-Tech Corridor” between Johnson County to the east and Manhattan to the west.

The corridor’s “centers of excellence” — including Kansas University’s emerging cancer center and planned pharmacy building; the state Capitol and Washburn University in Topeka; and Kansas State University’s innovation campus in Overland Park, plus existing food-safety operations and the upcoming National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan — need just one more thing to get things moving, he said: A new stretch of four-lane, divided highway connecting Kansas Highway 10 at Noria Road with the eastern edge of the trafficway, now an unused bridge crossing Iowa Street at the southern edge of Lawrence.

“To get there from here it’s a big bottleneck, and it seems to me we should get rid of that bottleneck, without any danger to the environment, and I think it’s a possible thing,” Roberts said Tuesday, during a tour of new “man-made” wetlands being created in connection with the trafficway.

Roberts doesn’t expect to secure $144 million for highway construction and other costs right away, he said. But he does want to add to the $1.5 million that’s already financing Baker University’s expansion of the Baker Wetlands south of 31st Street, west of Louisiana Street.

“You do it one step at a time,” he said.

Roberts has submitted a request for $5 million to a subcommittee that will consider projects that could go before the full Senate Appropriations Committee by year’s end. The trafficway money would be used for further mitigation efforts, being financed with federal money funneled through the Kansas Department of Transportation and led by Roger Boyd, Baker’s director of natural areas.

Baker already is using $975,000 to create wetlands on 142 acres west of the existing Baker Wetlands, an area that would lose about 50 acres should the new stretch of trafficway be built along a so-called 32nd Street alignment as approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The route is being challenged in federal court by a coalition of environmentalists and others who consider the existing wetlands to have environmental, cultural and historical significance.

The court case could be settled within a year to 18 months, said Deb Miller, Kansas secretary of transportation, who joined Roberts for the tour of Boyd’s mitigation efforts.

Then comes the “next challenge,” she said: Finding money to build a four-lane highway that one day could be expanded to six lanes.

“This is not an inexpensive project,” Miller said.

Boyd, for his part, enjoyed showing off the mitigation work accomplished thus far. The new wetlands have 54 new swales, designed to hold water and foster dozens of species of plants, harbor a wide collection of wildlife and provide educational opportunities for an interested public.

Kansas University architecture students will design and transform a former grain silo into an observation tower. A new picnic pavilion is nearly complete, and construction of a new 1,000-foot-long boardwalk begins next month. A visitor center, parking lot and other features are expected in the future.

Boyd is confident Roberts can come up with the financing to keep things going.

“It’s very good timing,” Boyd said. “We’re ready to go to the next phase. We’re shovel-ready.”

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