It won’t be long now before the first of two new Kansas Turnpike bridges across the Kansas River gets its traffic-carrying surface.
“With beams up in the air, and when they’re setting up to pour the concrete deck, that’s when it looks like things are getting there,” said Rex Fleming, project engineer for the Kansas Turnpike Authority. “When you’re working underground, it’s hard to see the work. Now, we can see everything.”
And, believe it or not, it’s only the beginning.
In all, Fleming said, the $130 million project cutting through the northern edge of Lawrence is “a little more than 25 percent complete”:
l The turnpike’s West Lawrence interchange, designated as exit 202 and just up the street from a Hallmark production plant, is open to traffic after being closed in June to accommodate an overhaul of its northern edge. A new roundabout controls traffic on the north side of the highway, steering traffic coming into Lawrence from the Kansas City area and funneling vehicles back onto the turnpike when leaving Lawrence and heading toward Topeka.
l Base supports and beams are in place for the first major bridge of the project, one that will carry traffic headed west over the river. The bridge will have three lanes, plus shoulders, and is scheduled to get its concrete deck beginning in May, followed by its asphalt surface in August, September or perhaps even October. Then it’ll be time to switch all turnpike traffic onto the new bridge, allowing crews to remove the original two bridges and replace them with a new span to carry traffic headed east.
Other components are well on their way, too, including a new turnpike bridge that crosses North Third Street in North Lawrence, near the East Lawrence interchange.
The interchange, which is exit 204 and across the street from the I-70 Business Center, will be the focus of the next major traffic disruption related to the project.
The first will be relatively brief: Between Kansas University’s commencement and the beginning of summer school, crews will need to “briefly” close connections to the interstate from exit 204 to allow for creation of new ones onto the “westbound” stretch of lanes, Fleming said. That’s so that traffic will be able to get on and off the turnpike once all turnpike traffic is switched onto the westbound lanes.
In the spring of 2010, disruptions will become more extended. That’s when crews will close the East Lawrence interchange for eight months, for complete reconstruction.
Fleming knows it won’t be easy for anyone involved. Commuters rely on the turnpike for travel to work, and businesses in town count on turnpike traffic to help make sales. Then there are the thousands of drivers to simply pass through.
“We just all have to work together,” Fleming said. “This is a three-year project. We’ll have a long walk together. We have to be communicating and letting people know what’s going on, and affect people as little as possible.
“But this is construction. There will be some effects.”
The entire project is slated for completion by the end of 2011.