Tonganoxie Wednesday afternoon, Emily Jefferies rolled through the newest Kansas Turnpike interchange on her way home from Topeka with fellow Tonganoxie High School senior Austin Baragary.
“It’s the second time I used it,” she said. “I like it, actually. It’s faster than (U.S. Highway) 24. I think it’s safer than using winding country roads.”
Enough motorists share Jefferies’ view to please the Kansas Turnpike Authority. March traffic numbers from the interchange that serves Eudora and Tonganoxie were near projected early use and those from April are expected to exceed projections. The interchange opened in December.
KTA numbers from March show an average of 1,452 vehicles a day entered or exited the turnpike at the new $16.7 million interchange.
Of the 45,025 vehicles that passed through the interchange’s gates in March, 53.2 percent exited and 46.7 percent entered the interstate, KTA figures show. However, KTA figures don’t indicate what direction the vehicles were traveling.
The peak use was Friday, March 26, when 1,856 vehicles used the interchange.
Traffic engineering studies projected early daily traffic at the interchange to be 1,482 vehicles a day, said Lisa Carpenter, KTA spokeswoman. Traffic is expected to increase to 2,475 vehicles per day within two years, she said.
Rex Fleming, KTA design and construction engineer, said the interchange’s numbers would improve as it started appearing on maps and — more importantly — motorists from neighboring communities learn of it and the convenience it offers.
“It wasn’t expected to be a large plaza for us, and it’s not,” Fleming said. “It’s intended to serve the local commuters and give them an option to use the turnpike.”
In just the third month, the interchange more than doubled traffic at the established rural interchange in northern Lyon County on U.S. Highway 56, which saw an average of 692 vehicles per day.
But the Leavenworth County interchange numbers pale in comparison to those at the two Lawrence interchanges. The west Lawrence interchange averaged 5,610 vehicles a day in March and the one in east Lawrence, which closed April 4 for improvements, averaged 10,851 per day.
The closing of the east Lawrence interchange has bumped up traffic at the interchange, Fleming said.
“There were about 500 vehicles more in the numbers I saw,” he said. “There’s a couple of thousand a day now, so we’re exceeding projections.”
The Tonganoxie/Eudora interchange was the first on the Kansas Turnpike with a fully automated toll booth, although two more have been installed since. Fleming said the automated system was also performing better than expected.
“Our people are keeping track of how fast traffic is going through,” he said. “It’s actually going through better than they thought.”