For 29,493 daily users of the Kansas Turnpike, Wednesday evening promises to mark the first time in more than 40 months — or 1,238 days, or 29,699 hours, or 1,781,940 minutes — that all lanes and all ramps will be open to all traffic heading through all of Lawrence.
And not a second too soon.
“We’re excited to have it done,” said Rex Fleming, turnpike project engineer for the turnpike who has been managing reconstruction and replacement projects in Lawrence since 2008. “With our customers, they’ve had to drive through construction for over three years. We know that’s an inconvenience.
“Now it’s time to tell everybody it’s over. It’s done. Come and enjoy the wide open space.”
Two projects are set to be substantially complete as of Wednesday evening:
• Replacement of original turnpike pavement east of Lawrence, extending east and west of the Lawrence Service Area. The project had limited traffic to one lane in each direction during summer 2010 and since early this past summer. All lanes will be open as of Wednesday evening, Fleming said.
• Replacement of Kansas River bridges, plus upgraded interchanges and other changes along the turnpike as it passes through Lawrence. The project that began June 6, 2008, finally had all six lanes open in both directions for the first time a couple weeks ago.
Both jobs overhauled infrastructure that had been in place since the turnpike’s earliest days, after officials had broken ground along the banks of the Kansas River back on Dec. 31, 1954: The river bridges were built as part of the original turnpike, and a five-mile stretch of lanes east of Lawrence were the last to have their original pavement replaced.
Taken together, the two projects cost more than the $140 million that was spent back in the 1950s to build the entire 236-mile-long turnpike.