Even as thousands more vehicles per day travel the South Lawrence Trafficway, there is no estimate for when a two-lane stretch of the roadway will be widened.
But that is not stopping local officials from beginning to lobby for the massive project, which is projected to have a price tag of more than $200 million. Expanding the western leg of the SLT to four lanes is part of a long-range plan of transportation projects that city and county officials hope to approve later this month.
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Putting the project on the plan, though, won’t ensure that it happens. The Kansas Department of Transportation controls the future of the project. While it has done some preliminary design work, it has made no commitments. However, the road is showing the type of traffic increase that gets the attention of the state.
Since the South Lawrence Trafficway was completed in late 2016, the daily traffic on the two-lane western leg of the roadway has increased by about 10,000 vehicles per day, from about 8,500 to 18,500 vehicles, according to data from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Even so, KDOT spokeswoman Laurie Arellano said traffic increases were projected, and those numbers alone are not enough to generate an immediate need for the expansion of the west leg of the trafficway. Arellano said that in addition to traffic volume, KDOT considers traffic congestion, safety, the condition of the roadway and the long-term needs of the area.
“There are more cars on that section of the road, but traffic volume is not the only factor on making a decision on whether or not to expand,” Arellano said. “It really comes down to a big picture.”
Part of that picture is the cost of the project. The project would widen the west leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway, from the I-70 junction to the Iowa Street junction, from two to four lanes and would span about 8.5 miles. KDOT estimates it would cost more than $233 million to complete.
The project to widen the west leg of the trafficway is included in the draft of the long-term transportation plan for Lawrence and Douglas County, Transportation 2040. And for the past two years, the city’s legislative priorities have included the identification of funding for the lane expansion. The statement reads that the completion of the trafficway has increased traffic on the west leg, and that “funding to expand the lanes and improve the safety of at-grade intersections should be identified.”
Arellano said preliminary engineering for the project, which helped determine the cost estimate, has been done, but there is no commitment to move beyond that at this time. A date of 2026-2030 was provided to the city and is included in the Transportation 2040 draft, but Arellano said KDOT identified that timeframe because it allowed time for planning, but there is no confirmed date at this time.
“We don’t have anything with a set date on it at this point,” Arellano said. “It is something that we continue to look at because the traffic volume is one piece of it.”
Regarding safety on the west leg of the trafficway, Arellano said the 2017 accident data for that segment from before and after the completion of the SLT is not yet available. She said KDOT would provide the information to the Journal-World once the information is compiled.
Head-on collisions have caused several deaths on the two-lane trafficway over the years. The most recent fatal accident occurred earlier this year. In January, one woman was killed and two others seriously injured after the woman’s car failed to negotiate a curve in the trafficway near Clinton Parkway, lost control and crossed into oncoming traffic. Other areas of the west leg, including the traffic light at Wakarusa Drive and the intersection with Kasold Drive, have also raised issues.
Arellano said looking at addressing other issues with the west leg of the trafficway would not have to wait for the lane expansion. As an example, she cited improvements made to the Wakarusa Drive intersection that added protected turn lanes going in and out of the nearby Clinton Lake Youth Sports Complex. Arellano said decisions would also involve looking at traffic volume, safety and road condition data within the big picture.
“And look to make sure we minimize the impact of that volume as it slowly increases and continue to plan within what we’re able to plan,” Arellano said.
Long-term transportation plan
The draft of the Transportation 2040 plan was released in February, and online comments on the draft will be accepted through Friday. The plan will be presented to the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board on March 15. Other projects on the Transportation 2040 plan include:
• Wakarusa Drive extension: Extend Wakarusa Drive from a planned Kansas Highway 10 interchange to Route 458 (North 1200 Road). The project would include construction of a new bridge over the Wakarusa River.
•Extension of 19th Street: Reconstruction of 19th Street from O’Connell Road to Harper Street. Includes connection to VenturePark, roundabout at 19th and Harper Street and construction of sidewalks and bike lanes.
• 31st Street extension: Construct a new two-lane 31st Street from O’Connell Road to Noria Road, also known as East 1750 Road. The new stretch of road would be approximately 1.5 miles long.