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Construction begins on South Lawrence Trafficway

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- A highway project linking Interstate 70 north of Lawrence with Kansas 10 east of the city has begun, nearly two decades after a portion of the road was completed.

Construction work began Tuesday on the South Lawrence Trafficway, Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kim Qualls told the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/17oWPmW).

She said she couldn't estimate when work would begin in Baker Wetlands, which has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the road. Environmentalists and Native American groups have staunchly opposed the highway's route through the wetlands.

"It is tough to predict with the weather," Qualls said. "But we will handle this like a normal project. We'll be providing updates as we move along."

Construction on the $130 million project is expected to take three years to complete. Columbia, Mo.-based Emery Sapp & Sons is the lead contractor for the project.

Work on the road has been halted since the mid-1990s when the western portion was completed. A July 2012 federal appeals court ruling cleared the way for the final six miles east of Iowa Street to be completed.

"I think it has been a long time coming, is my first thought," Lawrence Mayor Mike Dever said. "But I think the trafficway will mean even more now than it would have in the past. Moving people and moving traffic through Lawrence has become even more important as the city has grown."

The project will include construction of about 300 acres of man-made wetlands to replace roughly 55 acres of wetlands being taken for the highway. Despite that swap, trafficway opponents are not consoled.

Mike Caron, executive of Save the Wakarusa Wetlands, said several supporters of the wetlands plant to gather at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the wetlands to have a "memorial service" for them.

"I don't think there is anybody who thinks they are going to stop the roadway at this point," Caron said. "It is a tragedy, but there is not a whole lot we can do about it."

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com