U.S. 59 price tag climbs

Douglas County leg of freeway project jumps $35 million

The price tag for building the new U.S. Highway 59 freeway through Douglas County is climbing, thanks primarily to increased fuel and construction costs, a representative of the Kansas Department of Transportation said.

“We’re also just getting better estimates,” said Joe Blubaugh, KDOT’s northeast public affairs manager.

Initially the cost for building the Douglas County portion of the four-lane highway was estimated at $101.7 million. Now that has jumped to $136.9 million, Blubaugh said.

At the same time, the estimate for building the freeway from Interstate 35 at Ottawa to the Douglas County line has dropped from $112.6 million to $98.1 million.

“As we design this and we get more and more information available to us, it gets easier and easier to get the right estimate,” Blubaugh said.

The total freeway project is now estimated at $235 million, and KDOT will be watching closely what the future brings for the cost of fuel, concrete, steel and other materials, Blubaugh said.

“It (money) is very, very tight, but as of now there is still enough money to do the projects that we have planned,” he said. “It (U.S. 59) is a high enough priority that I think this project should be fine, as should all projects.”

The freeway’s estimated completion date is 2011. Construction will begin in Franklin County, where all property appraisals for purchase of right-of-way tracts should be completed in a couple of weeks. There are 46 properties in that county sought for building the freeway and 40 percent have been acquired, Blubaugh said.

In Douglas County, there are about 100 properties identified as needed for the project but none has been purchased, he said. Appraisals might begin next month and right-of-way purchases should begin next year, he said.

Final work at junction

Workers will return today to Baldwin Junction to finish work on the new four-way stop, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

“They are just putting up the final, permanent striping and permanent posts,” spokesman Joe Blubaugh said.

Three people have been killed in collisions this year at the junction, which is the intersection of U.S. highways 59 and 56.

Construction in Franklin County is expected to start next summer and be completed in late 2009. Then construction will begin in Douglas County.

Late last year, KDOT announced it was changing the road’s design at Pleasant Grove because of the discovery of expansive and unstable shale in the ground.

“It’s the kind of shale that becomes very unstable when it is exposed to weather,” Blubaugh said.

That caused the freeway’s route to be shifted farther to the east at Pleasant Grove than initially planned.

A study of the area delayed design work on the project and pushed back the contractor bidding process.

The new freeway will mean the end of “at-grade” intersections such as the deadly intersection at U.S. highways 59 and 56, known as Baldwin Junction. Three people have died in traffic accidents there this year.

“This is a freeway,” Blubaugh said of the new U.S. 59 design. “The only way you can access it will be at an interchange.”