Road kill? Officials plot new look for former train wreck site of Lawrence, Kan. town

The wrecking ball is approaching where the Ram train used to run from Lawrence, Kansas, through Kansas City International Airport and into Wamego, Kan.

Now the “downtown” of Wamego comes before the wrecking ball.

After decades of neglect, the Ram train derailment site is about to have a new life. The Regional Transit Authority is buying up the property and using the space to build a 200-space parking garage for the new Blue Line bus rapid transit route that is scheduled to begin service in a few years.

The local RTD is working to alter the surface parking lot and build a modern structure for more than a thousand vehicles. The garage will be made up of two buildings, separated by an elevated walkway. But residents of one nearby block, which has been the site of a community rally against the plan, feel as if they have been erased from the project.

Randy Eiler lives down the road on West Indiana Street, about one block from the planned garages. He says residents had opposed an earlier proposal, but now know the details have changed.

“Our neighbors in the neighborhood we have to live with. It’s a nuisance. It’s a total eyesore. It doesn’t serve any function other than taking away the land for an overpriced parking garage,” he said.

West Virginia Avenue is also a major artery and area of Wamego, which is about 50 miles east of Kansas City.

Randy’s mother, Maureen, says she and her neighbors have been concerned since the RMQR opened in 1970.

“It was supposed to be a quiet place to live, and people are taking it for granted. Every time you turn the corner, you see this garbage,” she said.

Indeed, that’s a common complaint about area aesthetics: the garage is barely visible to the driver when riding the new Blue Line bus. It can take some getting used to.

Jim Drew, president of the Wamego-Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce, says he supports the new bus system, but he questions the character of the garages being built.

“You sit back and you see all the windows. You see the bright colors. We feel like we’re in a Las Vegas casino when we look out the window,” he said.

Drew says neighborhood residents feel like they’re being evicted from the place they’ve known for years.

“We can’t have glass partitions. We can’t have people on the roof. We don’t want to see people on the roofs, especially on a rainy day. We don’t want that view. We don’t want it today, tomorrow, two years from now,” he said.

But officials have reassured that the garages won’t look like they did when they closed decades ago.

“We’re going to take your suggestions and put them into the design, which of course, I appreciate. That’s the conversation that we’re having with the neighborhoods and all of that. But, you know, from the design stage, you can’t change all that,” said Mark Hovatter, the Wamego-Fort Scott RMQR project manager.

Many neighbors blame problems in Wamego on the noise of the trains blasting. Many are opposed to razing the garage as it stands now, but they say they understand the need for the new garages.

And Janet Latta is looking forward to the change, just as a neighborhood association has pushed for a return to more livable streets.

“I like it. I don’t like it the way it is. I like the idea of it, you know, being a little less messy,” she said.

The growth of the town has never been dull, and it will never be dull when the space formerly occupied by the streetcars is turned into a garage.

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