The major traffic artery flowing through North Lawrence will be closed nine times, for up to 15 minutes at a time, as part of bridge-construction work that could begin as early as Friday.
The reason is simple: The Kansas Turnpike Authority doesn’t want to drop any of its new bridge beams — each weighing 6.6 tons — on vehicles passing underneath on North Third Street.
“It’s a safety issue,” said Rex Fleming, the authority’s project engineer.
The bridge work could start as early as 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. Friday, Fleming said. The work should be accomplished in a single day, and be finished by 3:30 p.m. so the closures wouldn’t affect rush-hour traffic.
But Fleming acknowledges that the closures — on a road that carries at least 16,000 vehicles per day — will be disruptive, rush hour or not. Some lanes already will be closed to accommodate equipment and crews, he said, but all lanes will be closed for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, as crews lift each 66-foot-long steel beam into place, then secure the span with bolts so that it won’t be able to fall.
The process will be repeated nine times, to complete the support structure for a 102-foot bridge that will carry traffic headed west on the turnpike. It is part of a $130 million project to replace the turnpike’s bridges crossing the Kansas River, a job that also is overhauling interchanges and replacing other bridges nearby.
Teresa Koder, who lives north of town, is looking forward to the beams being installed. Lawrence needs plenty of new infrastructure, she said, and getting the beams in place safely only makes sense.
Of course, Koder won’t be stuck waiting. As an assistant manager at Sonic, just south of the turnpike, she won’t be arriving at work until 4 p.m. — a full 30 minutes after the deadline for having all the beams in place.
She figures the traffic backups actually might help boost business at the fast-food place.
“If they’re sitting there waiting in line, they may as well come into Sonic and get something to eat,” she said. “People can get their food and be on their way by the time it opens again.”
Contractors originally scheduled the work for Friday, but Fleming said that rain could push the job to Saturday or, perhaps, even Monday or Tuesday. The key is to have good weather.
Flashing signs will warn approaching traffic of the closures, Fleming said. Kansas Highway patrol troopers will join turnpike personnel and their hired crews in helping manage traffic in the area.