Trafficway funding boost expected

Senate transportation bill contains $1.25M requested by Roberts

Cars travel on U.S. 59 just south of Lawrence in this file photo. Backers of the South Lawrence Trafficway project hoped that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would help complete the roadwork. Enlarge photo

September 28, 2009

The money isn’t in the bank yet, but area and state officials already are looking forward to spending another $1.25 million on the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The financing, requested by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, is included in a federal transportation bill passed earlier this month by the Senate and sent to a conference committee for consolidation with the House version.

There’s no telling when or if a finished bill might win approval and head to President Barack Obama for a signature, but the support from Washington already is paying off in Kansas, where officials are busy crafting support for a state transportation program.

“Economic impact” is among the new components expected to be weighed by state transportation officials as they consider which highway projects ought to be included in plans, and Roberts’ push for trafficway financing comes with support for completing what he considers a vital highway link in an area where biotechnology, animal sciences and other high-tech endeavors exist and are poised for growth.

“This is one more investment in improving the safety and efficiency of transportation in Lawrence and along the Kansas High Tech Corridor,” said Roberts, R-Kan.

Mitigation money

Roberts previously secured $1.5 million for trafficway work. That money financed creation of 142 acres of wetlands south of 31st Street and west of East 1400 Road, which is the extension of Louisiana Street at the southern edge of Lawrence.

The new wetlands are part of a plan to comply with a ruling from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which stipulates that the Kansas Department of transportation must create 304 acres of such wetlands to compensate for the planned destruction of an existing portion of the nearby Baker Wetlands.

The trafficway is slated to connect U.S. Highway 59 at the southern edge of Lawrence with Kansas Highway 10 at the southeastern edge, generally by following what is known as a “32nd Street alignment.” The highway would cut through the northern edge of the Baker Wetlands, between Louisiana Street and Haskell Avenue.

The route, approved by the Corps of Engineers, 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.

Preliminary work

The Kansas Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is preparing for the road’s construction, despite not having the $144 million that would be needed for actually building it.

The anticipated $1.25 million from the federal transportation bill likely would be used to purchase property east of Haskell Avenue, said Corky Armstrong, engineering manager for the department’s State Road Office. That property, east of the existing Baker Wetlands, would be used to create additional wetlands to satisfy the terms of the Corps of Engineers’ permit.

The state also has completed formal surveys to determine where the highway would be built, but has yet to document exactly which properties — or how much of owners’ parcels — would need to be acquired.

“We should have that right-of-way, at least initially, identified by the end of the year,” Armstrong said. “We’re moving forward to develop the right-of-way plans so that if something becomes available — like the earmark from Senator Roberts — then we will have something to do with the money for the project. And that’s buy right-of-way and/or restore some wetlands.”

Roger Boyd, Baker’s director of natural areas, continues to work on the 142 acres of mitigated wetlands west of the Baker Wetlands. By Thursday he plans to complete paperwork certifying to KDOT that the mitigation area is functioning as planned, with enough plants, hydric soil and water to meet federal standards.

“It’s safe to say, at least from a preliminary standpoint, that they are wetlands,” Boyd said.

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