LAWRENCE, Kan. - An appeals court has ruled Lawrence's "road to nowhere" can now finally go somewhere.
On Tuesday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state's highly controversial route for the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The court agreed with a lower court that the 6 miles that have yet to be built can now run right through the Baker Wetlands.
The trafficway will be built alongside Lawrence's existing 31st Street.
For years, the trafficway has only been nine miles long and partially complete.
A more than two-decade fight over what some call sacred wetlands has held up the completion of the trafficway.
The Prairie Band Pottawatomie Indian Tribe and many Haskell Indian University students and faculty have used the area as tribal lands.
"They practice sweat lodge ceremonies and prayer circles around here," explained Steve Ortiz Mon-Wah with the Prairie Band Pottawatomie tribe. "So that's what the road is interfering with: that privacy, that silence and one-on-one (experience) the Native American has with nature."
Drivers must exit the trafficway now and wind through Lawrence to connect back up with K-10 highway or Interstate-70.
The appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Kansas Department of Transportation can now build right through those wetlands so commuters and suppliers can bypass the clogged streets of Lawrence.
To Native people, construction will cut through tribal lands and a possible burial site.
To environmentalists, the trafficway will disrupt endangered frogs and unique wetlands that would be difficult to reproduce.
However, Baker University biology professor Dr. Roger Boyd said he believes most of those reasons "are bogus."
Boyd explained, "Prior to this road, it was never mentioned about sacred grounds or unmarked graves."
He is now not popular among his nature friends.
"Some still speak to me, some are frustrated I have supported the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway," he said.
Boyd said the land can be rebuilt.
The ecologist said he created wetlands three years ago on former cornfields in Lawrence. Now, native plants and birds have come back.
"I would say, let's build it," he said confidently.
The court said it believes there will be no fatal flaws in completing the bypass.
Still, the tribes vowed to exhaust all options.
"It's an injustice for Indian sovereignty," Ortiz Mon-Wah said.
Boyd said what will take longer to get back are the millions of dollars lost during more than two decades of fighting.
KDOT said the trafficway will bring more than $3 billion in economic impact to the Lawrence area.
The trafficway will be completed in 2016.
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