Kansas Turnpike officialsformally dedicated and opened the new Lecompton interchange and a newly remodeled West Lawrence toll plaza Thursday.
With a high school band, a Boys Scouts color guard and even Civil War-era cannon fire, the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.
"This interchange will be a great benefit economically to the growth of both Douglas and Jefferson counties," Richard Rock, chairman of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
"This plaza presents a greater access to Douglas County and the cities of Perry and Lecompton and Lawrence and provides access to the Clinton and Perry reservoirs," Rock said. "Long after we're gone this will be a great thing for all these communities."
About 250 to 300 people attended the ribbon-cutting event. They included the Perry-Lecompton High School Band and a dozen Civil War re-enactors, who fired three cannons to signal the ribbon-cutting.
The size of the gathering -- which included mostly Lecompton residents -- showed the significance of the new interchange to Lecompton.
"It will open us up for tourism a lot better than what we've been," said Lecompton Mayor Jeff Goodrick, one of the many area officials gathered at the event.
"We've got signs now on U.S. 40, the Kansas Turnpike and Highway 24 that will help direct traffic to Constitution Hall and the historical part of Lecompton," Goodrick said. "Maybe we can get the tourism in now."
Lecompton, about 10 miles northwest of Lawrence, gained national attention in the 1850s, when territorial lawmakers adopted a constitution that would have brought Kansas into the union as a slave state.
The constitution, which later was voted down, helped inflame tension between slavery advocates and abolitionists and became a flashpoint of the Civil War.
Goodrick said the new interchange "will be a boon all the way around. It will be great for Lecompton, it will be great for Jefferson County and Douglas County."
Besides the $3.2 million Lecompton interchange, turnpike officials also later held a smaller ribbon-cutting event to dedicate the new $3.14 million West Lawrence toll plaza.
Mike Johnston, KTA president and chief executive officer, said both dedications were timed to be open in order to handle traffic for this weekend's football game between Kansas University and Kansas State University.
Frank Becker, a member of the Kansas Turnpike Authority, said that the new Lecompton interchange will also relieve traffic congestion on the eastern leg of the turnpike.
Becker said many drivers will choose to get off the turnpike at Lecompton and go into the Kansas City area taking Kansas Highway 10 via the South Lawrence Trafficway.
The trafficway is still closed to the public. But it could be opened in two to three weeks, weather permitting, said Louie McElhaney, who chairs the Douglas County Commission.
McElhaney, who attended both events, said the striping on the trafficway is finished. But some guard rails at bridges still need to be installed and the stoplight at Wakarusa Drive needs to hooked up.
Johnston said Thursday's events were also being used to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the turnpike and the first anniversary of the use of K-TAG, the electronic toll collection system.
However, the highlight of the day was clearly the opening of the Lecompton interchange.
"It's a big event for the whole community," said Maxine Dark, a lifelong Lecompton resident.
Like other Lecompton residents, Dark had clipped part of the ribbon to take home for her scrapbook.
Paul Bahnmeier, a Lecompton resident who has worked to get the interchange built since the early 1980s, praised former state senator Wint Winter Jr. for his efforts to get the interchange.
"It gives us the recognition that Lecompton has never, never had before and allows our history to be viewed and recognized for the national significance that it has," Bahnmeier said.
He said that Lecompton residents wanted the interchange to be built three miles to the east. But the compromise site was picked to be able to hook up to the South Lawrence Trafficway.