Highway to Nowhere

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The South Lawrence Trafficway, a six-mile highway that will connect the Kansas Turnpike on I-70 with Kansas Highway 10, is set to open Nov. 9.  The construction project, which began in Nov. 2013, is supposed to shorten driving times from the eastern and western portions of the city.  As such, it is projected to cut commuter times, reduce traffic on major streets and encourage further retail development in the Douglas County area.

However, the highway plan is not without its controversies, and some citizens still oppose it to this day.  Called “the most disputed stretch of concrete in Douglas County” by the “Lawrence Journal-World,” the South Lawrence Trafficway was first proposed in the 1990s and faced immense backlash.  While its western portion was completed in 1996, legal battles over the eastern section, which would include an area known as the Haskell and Baker Wetlands, continued for decades.  As a result, a bridge constructed at the same time as the western route to connect the two highway partitions became known as “The Bridge to Nowhere.”

Environmentalists and Native Americans were the major opposing parties, and both argued that development near the wetlands would destroy its natural environment.  The Kansas Department of Transportation eventually reached a compromise with both groups and promised to employ numerous organizations, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and Baker University to help preserve the land around the proposed highway.  After the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed, these organizations will work to restore wetlands and habitats that may have been destroyed by the construction process, as well as create educational facilities and bike and hiking trails around the wetlands.

The completed highway is also expected to attract Johnson County and Topeka residents, as it will also serve as a route between the two areas.  In addition to the eastern side of the project, another bridge will be erected to accommodate further travel.

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