Traffic on the Kansas Turnpike could be steered onto a new Kansas River bridge by the end of October.
Rex Fleming, project engineer for the Kansas Turnpike Authority, said that dedicated contractors and favorable weather conditions had combined to speed up construction of the first of two turnpike bridges just west of the turnpike’s East Lawrence interchange.
With the bridge set for completion in a couple of weeks, he said, arrangements should be in place by the end of October to move all turnpike traffic — an estimated 30,000 vehicles per day — onto the new span. That shift originally had been scheduled for just before Thanksgiving.
“It’s always good to be ahead of schedule,” Fleming said. “We’re coming into the winter months. Winter tends to slow you down, so hopefully we can come out in the spring on time.”
The new bridge will have two lanes for traffic headed west and two lanes for traffic moving east, an arrangement expected to remain in place until another new bridge can be built over the river.
The entire $130 million project — to replace bridges, overhaul interchanges and handle related work through the northern edge of Lawrence — remains scheduled for completion by the end of 2011.
There’s still plenty of work to do.
Just this week, crews are pouring the final concrete medians on the new bridge. Next up will be a 2-inch-thick level of concrete on the bridge’s driving surface.
Crews also have squeezed traffic down to one lane in each direction through an extended work zone, to give workers room to remove existing medians for installation of special “crossovers” at two interchanges: Exit 204 and Exit 202. The crossovers will be necessary for traffic entering and exiting the turnpike when the new bridge enters service next month.
Then there’s the matter of removing the two old turnpike bridges, built in the 1950s and now considered obsolete. In early November, workers intend to start removing the concrete tops of the bridge sections that cross the river, a precursor to blasting the steel supports for removal.
While blasting originally had been expected to happen at night, Fleming said, the demolition instead will be scheduled for daytime — likely in the middle of November, or early December.
“It won’t be the Thanksgiving week, because we get too much traffic,” he said. “Our traffic gets pretty heavy that weekend.”
Once the bulk of the bridges is blasted and removed, crews will start pouring concrete piers in the river for the new bridge. The interchange at Exit 204 will be closed for eight months beginning in the spring, to allow for an overhaul that includes new toll booths and connections to the turnpike.