Looking at his work site from above, the roundabout could be mistaken for a crop circle. All that exposed earth? Perhaps a smudge on a dry erase board.
Back on the ground, though, Rex Fleming sees the truth up close: massive steel girders, freshly poured concrete and enough tractors, trucks and cranes to build a new highway interchange.
“I’m down here where the dirt’s flying,” said Fleming, project engineer for the Kansas Turnpike. “It’s really different seeing it from the ground.”
The interchange reconstruction project continues, seven weeks after the turnpike closed its Exit 204 and allowed crews from Hamm Cos. to get to work moving dirt, replacing ramps and preparing for construction of a new bridge, toll plaza other support structures.
They’re all part of an ongoing $130 million project to overhaul the turnpike as it passes through Lawrence. The interchange at Exit 202, which connects to McDonald Drive, already has been rebuilt, and the first of two new Kansas River bridges is in service.
The East Lawrence interchange connects to North Third Street in North Lawrence, across from the I-70 Business Center. Its replacement — set to reopen by Thanksgiving, with dedicated K-TAG lanes and toll booths equipped for automated payments during overnight hours — will be the last major inconvenience for drivers in the overall project.
Next spring crews will be busy adding lanes, shifting traffic and connecting new ramps, Fleming said, but by the end of 2011 the orange barrels will be gone and drivers will be cruising on six lanes through what had been the Kansas Turnpike Authority’s most expensive project since the highway’s construction in the 1950s.
“We’re probably 55 percent complete,” Fleming said. “We’re just a tad bit ahead of schedule.”