A three-judge federal appeals court upheld a ruling July 10 that removes a legal hurdle for the Kansas Department of Transportation to finish building a disputed trafficway in Lawrence.
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) A three-judge federal appeals court upheld a ruling July 10 that removes a legal hurdle for the Kansas Department of Transportation to finish building a disputed trafficway in Lawrence.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver issued its ruling affirming the process used by the Federal Highway Administration to select the project’s route. The road will be a 6-mi., four-lane road connecting the existing west leg of the trafficway with Kansas 10 east of Lawrence.
Plaintiffs sought to block the road’s construction, contending it would harm the Baker Wetlands.
State transportation officials were pleased with the ruling allowing the $150 million project to move forward.
“With the court ruling now behind us, KDOT can work in earnest to complete the project plans and meet the current schedule of beginning construction in fall 2013,” said State Transportation Engineer Jerry Younger, KDOT’s deputy secretary of transportation.
Bob Eye, a Topeka attorney who represents the Prairie Band Pottawatomie Nation, the Sierra Club and other groups opposed to the proposed route, said the ruling left him with a feeling like “being kicked in the gut.”
“We felt we had strong arguments that had a bearing on projecting these wetlands. Unfortunately, the court did not agree,” Eye said. “These resources are slipping away from us one highway, one development at a time.”
Eye said he was reviewing the opinion and his clients would be weighing their options, which could include asking for a rehearing by the same three-judge panel, a hearing with the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals or filing a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court for appeal.
Kansas officials have been trying for more than 20 years to build the road as a means for diverting highway and truck traffic around Lawrence. Once completed, the 14-mi. route will connect Interstate 70 with Kansas 10.
KDOT began preliminary right of way appraisal efforts in December 2011, with the surveying and staking of potentially affected properties. The agency will review the initial appraisals and send offer letters to property owners this summer.
Part of the project includes a $20 million mitigation program to add about 260 acres of new wetlands to the area and establish an endowment for Baker University to care for the property.
Eye questions whether the “man-made” wetlands would be ecologically viable.
“This will destroy the wetlands as we know them now. The idea that there can be human created wetlands is a problematic proposition,” he said.