By the time Lawrence residents who commute to Topeka on the Kansas Turnpike leave work today, they will be driving through the new East Topeka interchange.
"Watch for the signs," said Kim Stich, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation. "There is going to be a big change between morning and afternoon."
Drivers are warned to expect delays this afternoon and evening.
At $94 million, the interchange is one of the largest highway projects in state history. It started in 1997.
For Lawrence-Topeka commuters, the new interchange won't make much difference in driving time, Stich said. But it will move traffic more safely and efficiently.
And it will give drivers more direct routes if they want to go elsewhere in northeast Kansas, she said.
The biggest change will be the new toll plaza on the turnpike, rather than at exit-entrance areas. A smaller toll plaza will be farther south on the turnpike to handle traffic heading that direction.
The interchange took four years to build and, according to KDOT, includes 39 new lane miles of roadway, 16 bridges, six miles of ramps, 5.6 million pounds of structural steel, 3.7 million pounds of reinforcing steel, 365,000 square yards of concrete pavement, and 4.4 million cubic yards of excavation.
The interchange will connect the Oakland Expressway in Topeka with Interstate 70.
While the project will be open to traffic today, removal of the existing KTA toll plazas and roundabouts connecting Rice Road and I-70 will not be finished until late 2002.
The $94 million pricetag was funded 50 percent by KDOT, 41 percent by KTA and 4.5 percent each from Topeka and Shawnee County. It includes about $3 million in landscaping, which will start to be put in this fall.
Gov. Bill Graves, Kansas Transportation Secretary Dean Carlson and other officials will be on hand for an opening ceremony today.
Traffic will be allowed onto the new roadways in phases throughout the day, starting about noon, officials said. Drivers are asked to look out for workers while the route is being opened.
-- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 832-7221.