Conditional permission came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which operates Haskell, to Mike Rees, KDOT's chief counsel.
The price: Tear out 31st Street, which crosses the Haskell campus, in effect restoring a muddy strip of land a few hundred feet wide at the southern edge of the Haskell property.
The offer would seem a pittance compared with what was on the table two years ago: $5 million in cash and prizes for Haskell. In 1999, KDOT was promising to build berms to shield Haskell from highway noise, give Haskell land now occupied by a fire station and concrete plant, return wetlands that once were a part of the Haskell campus and now are controlled by Baker University, build a $350,000 pedestrian bridge so Haskell students could cross the trafficway to reach the wetlands, and cut a check for $3.3 million.
Just let us build the trafficway along 31st Street, county and state officials pleaded.
Their desperation was the result of more than a decade of struggle to solve traffic congestion in the southeast corner of Lawrence and the regional problem of routing vehicles between Johnson County and Topeka.
The struggle pitted environmentalists, Lawrence business interests, various government officials and Haskell loyalists in an unwinnable brawl made more intense by the emotional baggage of the nation's history of abuse of its indigenous peoples.
Ultimately, it was Haskell that took the blame for the proposal's defeat when the university's board of regents turned down the $5 million package.
But then trafficway necromancer Rees persuaded the Bureau of Indian Affairs that a state-built highway with a closed drainage system and proper mitigation would be preferable to the congested city street 31st Street is fast becoming.
"There was tremendous pressure growing in the community to widen and extend 31st Street," says Haskell board of regents attorney Ron Manka. "We were fearful 31st Street could become a de facto trafficway ... a 45-mile-an-hour, four-lane road all the way out to the east end of town."
Rees now hopes to see an actual trafficway constructed just a few hundred feet south of 31st Street.
Manka points out that KDOT will have to receive the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' permission to fill wetlands along the route and ensure the project won't damage the historic value of Haskell. Each step is sure to receive intense scrutiny from highly skeptical environmentalists and their accompanying lawyers.
"There's not any indication to me the environmental community in Lawrence is going to back down from this, even though the Bureau of Indian Affairs has decided they are no longer interested in it," says Alison Reber, president of the Lawrence-based Jayhawk Audubon Society.
Reber says that in some ways the new proposal is worse than the 31st Street option. The proposed route would cross through the wettest part of the wetlands and destroy a parking area and boardwalk that are the main access point to the property for visitors.
"That's the most public area. That's what the public is going to associate with the wetlands, and that's what [trafficway proponents] want to take away," Reber says.
Manka says the most important result from the BIA letter is that Haskell has successfully pulled itself from the center of the debate. "Haskell has suffered tremendously in the community because of the bad feelings of many ... caused by their perception that Haskell blocked the trafficway," Manka says. "This gets it on the environmentalists, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the WPO [Wetlands Preservation Organization] to make their own case that it's not the right place to put the trafficway for environmental reasons."