It was a cold, snow-covered day almost a year ago when the first car drove through the Tonganoxie/Eudora interchange and onto Interstate 70.
Since then, nearly 700,000 cars have followed.
At mile marker 212, the I-70 interchange has improved the connection between Lawrence and Kansas City, town leaders say.
For those in Eudora who are heading west, it can shave off several minutes on a commute and avoid the hassle of 23rd Street in Lawrence, former Mayor Tom Pyle said.
For Tonganoxie residents, it provides a better alternative to the dark, curvy and deer-infested U.S. Highway 24-40 that parallels I-70, Tonganoxie City Administrator Mike Yanez said.
“I’ve heard nothing but compliments from citizens. They really find it as a tremendous convenience, particularly connecting us with Lawrence and all points west,” Yanez said.
When the interchange opened on Dec. 29, 2009, the Kansas Turnpike Authority anticipated about 1,500 vehicles per day. In two years, they hope to see about 2,500 cars travel through the interchange each day.
Right now the average daily traffic count is at 1,947.
Those numbers are partly bolstered from when the interchange in North Lawrence was under construction and closed. When that interchange at mile marker 204 reopened in October, 400 to 500 fewer vehicles used the interchange at mile marker 212.
“We’re on top of where we thought it would be,” KTA CEO and President Michael Johnston said of the numbers. “We hope it obviously grows by another 25 percent.”
The new interchange has shifted traffic patterns in Tonganoxie and Eudora. Pyle notices that Church Street has gotten busier during rush hour in Eudora.
The volume of traffic on Leavenworth County Road 1, which leads to the interchange, has increased, Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark Metcalf said. In the beginning, the sheriff’s office received complaints of speeding on the newly improved road. After increased traffic enforcement, Metcalf said, the complaints disappeared.
From the data the KTA has collected, about 60 percent of the traffic at the interchange is going to or from the east toward Kansas City and another 40 percent is traveling to or from the west.
During local festivals and gatherings in Tonganoxie, Eudora and Lawrence last summer, the KTA promoted its K-Tags and the use of the interchange.
The interchange is the first fully automated interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.
Yanez believes the biggest time-saver is for those heading west. In particular, he said the new interchange saves between 10 and 15 minutes on the drive from Tonganoxie to Lawrence, not to mention the road is safer.
So far, neither Yanez nor Pyle have heard of any businesses specifically benefiting from the new interchange.
But Yanez thinks that when the economy recovers, having the interchange nearby will encourage more people to move to Tonganoxie and spark commercial development in the area.
“We are very positive about it in the community,” he said.