Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

Feds approve wetlands Lawrence trafficway route

November 8, 2007

by Chad Lawhorn

A route through the Baker Wetlands is the best option to complete the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway, key federal regulators said Tuesday.
Regulators with the Federal Highway Administration began distributing a long-awaited report Tuesday determining that a 32nd Street route for the trafficway is the only feasible and prudent alternative that would allow for completion of the bypass project.
Predictably, supporters hailed the decision, while opponents said it does nothing to dissuade them from believing a road through the wetlands would produce significant environmental and cultural damage to nearby Haskell Indian Nations University.
"I'm delighted," said Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson, who has been a longtime supporter of the route. "It is just another giant step toward the completion of the trafficway."
City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who has lobbied for the road to avoid the wetlands by being built south of the Wakarusa River, said it probably just sets the stage for a federal court battle.
"I still think that building a road through the wetlands won't be good for the community in the long-term," Highberger said.
Details about the specific points in the report from the Federal Highway Administration weren't immediately available Tuesday night. That's because the report was not publicly released by either Federal Highway leaders or the Kansas Department of Transportation. Instead, the Journal-World received a tip that the document had been delivered to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department and several other locations that will serve as locations where the public can review the document once a public announcement is made.
The trafficway project has been in limbo for more than a decade. The western portion of the bypass -- which begins at I-70 west of Lawrence -- is built, but currently ends at Iowa Street. The eastern portion -- designed to run from Iowa Street to Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence -- has been stalled over concerns about the road running through the wetlands.
Johnson did not dispute Highberger's assessment that a federal lawsuit likely will be filed by opponents of the project. But Johnson said the project can survive the scrutiny.
The report by the Federal Highway Administration makes the second federal agency that has supported the 32nd Street route for the road. Previously, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had approved the 32nd Street route.
A route through the Baker Wetlands is the best option to complete the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway, key federal regulators said Tuesday.
Regulators with the Federal Highway Administration began distributing a long-awaited report Tuesday determining that a 32nd Street route for the trafficway is the only feasible and prudent alternative that would allow for completion of the bypass project.
Predictably, supporters hailed the decision, while opponents said it does nothing to dissuade them from believing a road through the wetlands would produce significant environmental and cultural damage to nearby Haskell Indian Nations University.
"I'm delighted," said Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson, who has been a longtime supporter of the route. "It is just another giant step toward the completion of the trafficway."
City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who has lobbied for the road to avoid the wetlands by being built south of the Wakarusa River, said it probably just sets the stage for a federal court battle.
"I still think that building a road through the wetlands won't be good for the community in the long-term," Highberger said.
Details about the specific points in the report from the Federal Highway Administration weren't immediately available Tuesday night. That's because the report was not publicly released by either Federal Highway leaders or the Kansas Department of Transportation. Instead, the Journal-World received a tip that the document had been delivered to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department and several other locations that will serve as locations where the public can review the document once a public announcement is made.
The trafficway project has been in limbo for more than a decade. The western portion of the bypass -- which begins at I-70 west of Lawrence -- is built, but currently ends at Iowa Street. The eastern portion -- designed to run from Iowa Street to Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence -- has been stalled over concerns about the road running through the wetlands.
Johnson did not dispute Highberger's assessment that a federal lawsuit likely will be filed by opponents of the project. But Johnson said the project can survive the scrutiny.
The report by the Federal Highway Administration makes the second federal agency that has supported the 32nd Street route for the road. Previously, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had approved the 32nd Street route.
Johnson said he was hopeful the new ruling from the Federal Highway Administration would remove some of the uncertainty regarding the road. He said that should help state legislators and others successfully lobby for the funding needed to complete the road.
At least $130 million is needed to complete the road. The ruling from the Federal Highway Administration could play a key role because it makes the project eligible to receive federal funding. Without the ruling, the entire project would have to be built with state funding.
Johnson said he expects the project will seek funding from both federal and state sources. Johnson said the ruling should help at the state level because the Legislature is expected to begin debating options for creating a new 10-year, statewide comprehensive transportation plan.
"This comes at a good time," Johnson said.He said that should help state legislators and others successfully lobby for the funding needed to complete the road.
At least $130 million is needed to complete the road. The ruling from the Federal Highway Administration could play a key role because it makes the project eligible to receive federal funding. Without the ruling, the entire project would have to be built with state funding.
Johnson said he expects the project will seek funding from both federal and state sources. Johnson said the ruling should help at the state level because the Legislature is expected to begin debating options for creating a new 10-year, statewide comprehensive transportation plan.
"This comes at a good time," Johnson said.

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