LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas transportation officials say they will begin contacting dozens of Lawrence property owners about buying land needed to complete a new roadway, despite a pending appeal in a lawsuit filed because the planned route would affect a wetlands area.
“We’re trying to be as efficient and as responsible with public money as we can,” said Josh Powers, a spokesman of Kansas Department of Transportation. “If we waited, the project would have to be delayed and those costs would rack up really quickly.”
After opponents filed a federal lawsuit to stop the highway, the state won a ruling finding that the project has the necessary permits to build the road through the Baker Wetlands, The Lawrence Journal World reported.
But opponents have filed an appeal arguing the permit process was flawed and the road should not be allowed in the wetlands. A three-judge 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Jan. 19 in Denver.
Powers said the state is prepared to begin buying property before the outcome of that appeal is decided. He said KDOT sent letters Nov. 21 to owners who have property in the proposed route. The state soon will follow up with the owners to get permission to enter their properties and drive stakes to show how much property it would need to purchase.
Bob Eye, who represents opponents of the roadway, questioned the state’s plan.
“It puts them in a situation where they have to accept that they may be throwing resources at purchases that will never result in any benefit,” Eye said.
Powers said it’s unclear how much the needed properties might cost. But he said moving ahead with the purchases was the most prudent course to avoid increased construction costs related to unnecessary delays.
The project was estimated to cost $192 million when funding was announced in the summer, but that was based on the road being built in 2016. By moving the project to a 2014 completion, it is now estimated to be a $150 million project.
“If we do not prevail in the lawsuit, we would have land that we would have to look at in terms of what the next steps are for the project,” Powers said. “But those costs are certainly outweighed by what the costs would be if the project were delayed.”