Two large cranes tugged on industrial-sized rubber bands, each strapped to the first piece of 250 tons of steel partially submerged in the frigid Kansas River below the Kansas Turnpike.
The early returns on Wednesday morning’s diesel-powered effort: about 1.5 feet of movement.
“It needs to come out,” said Rex Fleming, the turnpike’s project engineer, watching the work from a temporary causeway built out into the river below the turnpike.
The effort may be slow-going, but Fleming says it’s critical to keeping his $130 million project moving. So far one new turnpike bridge already has been built, and is being used to carry turnpike traffic in both directions through the northern edge of Lawrence.
The turnpike’s West Lawrence interchange, which is exit 202, has been rebuilt. The East Lawrence interchange, which is exit 204 in North Lawrence, is set to close this spring for eight months, so that crews can rebuild it to accommodate new equipment and more traffic.
But the second main portion of the project — construction of a second Kansas River bridge, eventually to carry traffic heading east toward the Kansas City area — cannot begin until the old steel in the river is gone, and what’s left an another old bridge is removed.
While hired contractors already have conducted three separate blasts to clear the old bridges, they still need a fourth and possibly more. And that can’t happen until the steel in the water is lifted out of the mud and muck some 25 feet below the surface.
The problem: The steel literally is stuck in the mud, Fleming said, and crews need to “break the suction” that’s keeping it from being lifted for removal.
Fleming said the next blast could be set for early next week, as long as the fallen steel is out of the river. The blast also could be set for during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.