Low bids could speed up completion of South Lawrence Trafficway

A Lawrence highway project that has been in the works for more than a quarter century could be finished by late 2016 after bids came in much lower than expected.

Columbia, Mo.-based Emery Sapp & Sons Inc. was the low bidder Wednesday for the South Lawrence Trafficway at $129.8 million. That's about $20 million less than the $150 million engineers had estimated for the final leg of the roadway, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

"They didn't blow the budget, that's for sure," said Jonathan Marburger, project manager for the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Department of Transportation officials will spend about a week reviewing the bids before awarding a construction project. If the Emergy Sapp & Sons bid checks out, the state likely will issue a notice to proceed with the project by mid-October, Marburger said.

Once that happens, significant work could start taking place before the end of the year, he said.

"If anything, it could start filling in portions of the wetlands before the end of the year," Marburger said, referring to work in the Baker Wetlands. That work is being done under a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which comes with a timeline for the work to be completed.

The Missouri company also will build an extension of in Lawrence for which it bid $3.9 million, also the lowest of the six bids submitted.

The new 6-mile section of the South Lawrence Trafficway will connect to the already completed western portion, which currently comes to a dead end at Iowa Street in south Lawrence. The completed bypass will carry traffic from the Kansas Turnpike west of Lawrence to Kansas 10 east of the city, allowing through traffic to avoid city streets.

Construction on the project has been stalled since the mid-1990s after the western portion of the highway was completed. Environmental groups, the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation and other organizations filed lawsuits that created a series of legal battles over the environmental damage the road's route through the Baker Wetlands would create, and on the impact to the cultural and historical significance the wetlands have for Native Americans and other groups.

Those legal challenges ended after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in July 2012 that cleared the way for the project and environmental efforts that included building about 300 acres of man-made wetlands to replace the roughly 55 acres of wetlands being taken for the project.