Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories, looking ahead to 2010.
The new year promises to bring more destruction, continued construction and plenty of obstructions to the Kansas Turnpike in Lawrence, but the guy in charge can promise drivers at least one thing: He’s looking forward to the end, just like you.
“What we need to do now is finish up the project, so we can get everyone back to normal,” said Rex Fleming, project manager for the $130 million overhaul. “We still have quite a ways to go, but we’re working hard on it.”
Fleming’s internal drive — the three-year project is now 50 percent complete, both in terms of scheduling and contract payments — is among several projects, initiatives and plans expected to continue moving in 2010, despite dwindling governmental budgets.
The state’s work to build a new U.S. Highway 59 between Lawrence and Ottawa, for example, remains on track, said Kim Qualls, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Transportation.
In Douglas County, contractors have finished four of the 15 bridges being built for the project; another three have girders in place, but no decks on top, Qualls said. About 60 percent of grading and other earthwork is complete, and virtually all drainage culverts are in place.
While about 47 percent of the Douglas County side of the project is finished — still on schedule for completion in April 2012 — the limited-access freeway in Franklin County is quickly approaching completion.
Traffic could be moving between the county line and Ottawa this spring, Qualls said.
“The project’s going great,” she said. “(Highway) 59 is on track; 59 is funded; 59 will keep on moving forward. It has no impact whatsoever from the current funding situation.”
Study on hold
The situation Qualls is referring to involves the lack of a financing plan at the state level for highways and other transportation needs. The lack of financing has spurred her department to cancel planned construction projects, postpone certain studies, defer equipment purchases and place limits on grant programs.
In the Lawrence area, expected progress on a regional visioning exercise — the Five-County Regional Transportation Study, spanning needs in Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties — has been put on hold.
Still under way is a study to assess needs along the U.S. Highway 56 corridor in Douglas and Johnson counties, Qualls said. Officials plan to conduct an open house from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at the American Legion hall in Baldwin City to discuss progress on the project.
KDOT doesn’t have any other major projects on the radar for the Lawrence area in 2010, Qualls said. And she doesn’t expect any new ones to pop up, given the state’s financial condition.
“There’s just uncertainty as to what comes next,” Qualls said.
The city of Lawrence is planning to move ahead — with some financial help from the state — on reconstruction of Kasold Drive from Clinton Parkway to 31st Street. Revenues from a citywide sales tax are lined up to finance the bulk of the estimated $6 million project, on which construction is expected to begin in late spring, possibly by the end of May.
The city already is financing work on the new Burroughs Creek pedestrian-bike trail in east Lawrence, also with KDOT financial assistance. The project will include a 10-foot-wide trail along an old railroad route just west of Haskell Avenue, from 11th to 23rd streets. Also included: pedestrian-activated crossing lights at 11th and at 19th streets; a raised crosswalk at 15th Street; a speed hump at 13th Street; and a pedestrian bridge to cross Burroughs Creek, connecting the trail with Parnell Park.
Rail transportation also is on the map at City Hall. Hernly Architects is working on a city-commissioned study to come up with a renovation plan for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe depot, a 1950s-era building at 413 E. Seventh St.
The city is looking into purchasing the depot and upgrading it to feature expanded uses beyond its current operations as a twice-a-day stop for Amtrak service. Supporters of passenger rail also are hoping that renovations could help bolster momentum for new Amtrak service between Kansas City, Mo., and Oklahoma City.
Bus cooperation continues
Transit services also look to see more coordination in Lawrence this year as the city and Kansas University continue their efforts to tie their two bus systems — the T and KU on Wheels — closer together, both to improve service and increase efficiency.
Turnpike officials, meanwhile, are keeping their eyes on their major job at hand. The East Lawrence interchange, exit 204, is expected to close for eight months beginning in March for reconstruction in conjunction with construction of a second new Kansas River bridge.
To permit the bridge construction, contractors still need to bring down what remains of one of two original river bridges, now more than 50 years old. Explosives crews are expected to place directional charges for a final blast of steel, likely sometime during the week of Jan. 11.
Dismantling of concrete piers and other materials will come later.
“The winter is a little bit tough,” said Fleming, the turnpike’s project engineer. “We need to keep moving and stay on track.”