Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Turnpike interchange approved

March 2, 2006

More traffic might be on the way, but so might a new downtown.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority has agreed to build a new interchange about eight miles east of Lawrence between Tonganoxie and Eudora.

Eudora city administrator Cheryl Beatty said the development, while adding more traffic down Eudora's main road, might have sealed the deal for a downtown beautification grant sought through the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The possibility of the turnpike interchange was considered a plus for the city's chances during an initial review of the grant, Beatty said.

With the approval of the new interchange, things look even better.

"That gives us a better chance to get the grant money," Beatty said. "Which gives us time to get it done before that begins."

The news delighted officials in Leavenworth County and Eudora but drew concern from some in Lawrence.

"I think it is a lousy decision for Lawrence," Lawrence City Commissioner David Schauner said. "It will hurt our long-term growth prospects. I think it is great for Johnson County but not good for Lawrence."

Schauner said he had hoped the turnpike authority would place an interchange closer to Lawrence that could be a terminus for an eastern bypass project to help move Lawrence traffic around the outskirts of the city.

Turnpike leaders announced Friday that a financial analysis had shown a new $3 million interchange about three miles south of Tonganoxie would be financially feasible. The project also will include about $8 million worth of improvements to Leavenworth County 1, a linking route to the interchange, that will be funded by a Leavenworth County sales tax.

Tonganoxie leaders hailed the news.

"I'm pretty overwhelmed with the decision," Michael Yanez, Tonganoxie's city administrator said. "I'm looking forward to what happens next. I think a lot has been on hold in terms of economic development until this decision is made.

"This really is going to fuel a lot of new growth in our area."

Turnpike leaders have estimated the interchange could be operational in three years.

The proposed location -- about eight miles east and north of Lawrence -- also is creating traffic questions for Eudora. Leavenworth County 1 continues south of the turnpike and eventually becomes Douglas County Route 1061, which goes through downtown Eudora.

The turnpike authority doesn't have estimates of how many motorists might use the new interchange to go south through Eudora to connect to Kansas Highway 10, but it is expected to be a sizable number.

"It is going to be a great thing," said Eudora Mayor Tom Pyle. "It will bring more traffic, but that isn't all bad."

Pyle said more motorists could provide a boost to businesses such as gas stations, restaurants and retail shops. He also said the new convenient turnpike access could spur more housing and business growth for Eudora.

But Pyle said the thought of hundreds of trucks going through downtown Eudora was a concern. He said that's why planning needs to begin now on a new road to run traffic along the edge of Eudora, preferably to the west.

A new road, though, likely would require a new Kansas River bridge, which would cost tens of millions of dollars. The project would create a lot of "interesting questions" about who should pay for it, Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones said.

"But I think there will be an enormous amount of pressure to do it," Jones said.

There also has been speculation Johnson County leaders may push to have a road built east of Eudora crossing the river near De Soto and providing access for development at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

- Eudora News reporter Patrick Cady,, contributed to this story.

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