KU student pushes button that demolishes a portion of the Kansas Turnpike bridge

2nd explosion topples 2 sections

Tracking the boom

Jessica Sadler, a Kansas University junior from Jenks, Okla., and a member of the KU rowing team, gives a thumbs-up for her friend and rowing teammate Kristen Allison, a junior from Denver. Allison photographed Sadler shortly after Sadler pushed the detonator that demolished another section of the old I-70 Kansas River bridge. “I really put some spank on it,” Sadler said Thursday after setting off the explosion.

People around the area have reported hearing today’s explosion from considerable distances from the bridge. Did you? Let us know where you were if so, and we’ll map the responses to see how far the sound traveled.

Jessica Sadler has been waiting for the old Kansas Turnpike Bridge over the Kansas River to come down for quite awhile, but she never imagined she’d play a pivotal role in making it happen.

“That was awesome,” said Sadler, a junior member of Kansas University’s rowing team, who was selected Thursday to push — more like slam — the button that set off explosives used to bring down two sections of the bridge.

The explosion set off a big boom, as smoke rose and two sections of the bridge, which carried turnpike traffic over the Kansas River for more than 50 years, came crashing down. Sadler triggered the successful blast from a spot 1,000 feet away form the bridge, along the river levee.

“It was more like a relief, than scary or anything else,” Sadler said with a sigh. “It’s just a nice feeling to know that we’re making progress.”

Jessica Sadler, KU junior from Jenks, Okla., and a member of the KU Rowing team, second from right, hits the detonator button to raze another section of the old I-70 Kansas River bridge on Thursday morning. At right is her KU Rowing teammate Kristen Allison, Denver. I

Sadler, of Jenks, Okla., said construction of the replacement bridges has prevented crew members from racing in that section of the river. She said she hopes to be able to race in the area by the time she finishes college next year.

Thursday’s demolition means crews were that much closer to finishing their work on the $130 million reconstruction project at the northern edge of town, expected to be finished in 2011.

“We’re just really excited to get our river back,” said Kristen Allison, 21, of Denver, also a junior member of the rowing team, who got to stand next to Sadler during the explosion.

Originally scheduled for 10 a.m., the blast was delayed until 10:30 because of dense fog. Kansas Highway Patrol troopers conducted a rolling road block, in which they slowed traffic on the turnpike but didn’t stop it, in order for the blast to occur safely.

About 100 officials and community members gathered for a reception Thursday at Kansas Athletics Inc.’s boathouse in Burcham Park, where Sadler was selected in a drawing to be the blaster. She was assisted by Pat Carney, owner of Chicago Explosive Services, the firm hired to blast the original turnpike bridges.

Traffic starts up again across the new I-70 Kansas River bridge after a section of the old bridge, shown on the ground in right side of photo, was dropped by an explosion Thursday.

“You go through your whole life and you never see an event like this,” said Michael Johnston, president and CEO of the Kansas Turnpike Authority. “We thought we’d share it with the community and other folks, and we’re just thrilled to death.”

Within minutes of the blast, construction crews began tearing up the steel beams on the fallen portions of the bridge. Rex Fleming, KTA official, said crews tore up the sections dropped during the first blast on Sunday within one day.

Fleming said a total of five blasts would be needed to bring the bridge entirely down. He said the next blast would likely occur sometime the week after Thanksgiving, so as not to interrupt travelers during the holiday.

Carney said he hoped to have all sections down by Christmas.