Before the Kansas Turnpike can dismantle one bridge and implode another, it first must close half of the East Lawrence interchange.
And it’s only a preview of a larger — and longer-lasting — project to come.
In the early morning of May 27, the turnpike plans to close its on- and off-ramps for westbound traffic at Exit 204, the interchange across North Third Street from the I-70 Business Center in North Lawrence. Ramps for eastbound traffic will remain open.
The scheduled two-week closure for half of the interchange is designed to give construction crews time to upgrades ramps, move dirt and otherwise prepare for even more work this fall: the transfer of all turnpike traffic — both eastbound and westbound — onto a new Kansas River bridge being built along the northern edge of the interstate.
“Just think of your home,” said Rex Fleming, project engineer for the turnpike. “You’ve got to maintain it. Your driveway? You’ve got to maintain it. Same thing with the highway. Every so often you’ve got to maintain it, and that’s what we’re doing now.”
Once the traffic has been transferred, the turnpike’s new Kansas River bridge will be carrying traffic headed west toward Topeka and east toward the Kansas City metro area. Each direction will have two lanes.
The transfer will allow crews hired by the turnpike to remove the existing river bridges, now 55 years old, and build a second new bridge to take their place. Upon completion, the new bridge will carry eastbound traffic.
The entire $130 million project is scheduled for completion by the end of 2011.
As part of the overall project, the entire East Lawrence interchange will be rebuilt. Exit 204 will get a new toll plaza, featuring dedicated K-Tag lanes, more payment lanes and, yes, a roundabout to help handle traffic coming in from the east and heading out to the west.
The entire interchange is scheduled to close for eight months beginning next spring.
Lawrence city officials are looking to rebuild an intersection of their own, at North Second and Locust streets in North Lawrence, before the entire interchange closes next spring.
“We appreciate the turnpike’s investment in the infrastructure that serves the state and serves the community,” said David Corliss, Lawrence city manager. “We’ll be glad — just like they’ll be glad — when the work is done.”