Replacing a bridge along East 23rd Street won’t stop fans fast-breaking into or out of Lawrence for KU basketball games this season, with crews shooting for having the new bridge in place by the time tailgating begins in the fall.
The off-season for Kansas University athletics is scheduled to be construction season for a general contractor, forcing 36,000 fans of driving 23rd Street each day to grapple with temporary access roads, reduced speed limits and prohibited left turns.
Look for the bridge between Barker and Haskell avenues to be closed in early April, removed soon thereafter and then replaced by September.
And when it comes to fans heading into town for basketball and football games, the hope is for no harm, no foul.
“We will be able to generally — generally — facilitate four lanes of traffic through construction, just as it is now,” said Kris Norton, project manager for the Kansas Department of Transportation. “There’s going to be times, yes, when maybe there will be less for shorter durations: one lane in one direction, and two lanes in the other.
“But while the bridge is out and while they’re building the new bridge, for six months, there will be two lanes in each direction. You’ll have to go slower, but it’s a lot better than one lane in each direction or, god forbid, closed.”
The $4.5 million project is necessary to replace a bridge that had been installed in 1931, then widened to four lanes in 1970. Such replacement projects typically require closing either half or an entire road, but engineers ruled out those scenarios along 23rd because of the road’s daily traffic.
That’s why, beginning in February, a contractor will be expected to start work installing a temporary access road on each side of 23rd. Each of the roads will carry two lanes of traffic, be illuminated by temporary street lights and carry speed limits of 30 mph or 35 mph, down from 23rd’s posted 45 mph.
Vehicles turning onto or off of the access roads will be limited to right turns only, to help keep traffic as safe and smooth-flowing as possible.
“It’ll be slower, but the capacity will be there,” Norton said.
The new bridge will have five lanes instead of four, plus a six-foot-wide sidewalk along the south side, protected from traffic by a concrete barrier. Along the north side of 23rd Street, the project will run a 10-foot-wide concrete path up to an existing rails-to-trails recreational path that runs underneath the bridge.
The rec path will be closed at 23rd during construction, but by November users will have a new parking lot just north of the bridge — a remnant of the temporary access road — for their use.
The project includes plans for concrete to be stamped and stained, to give the structure the appearance of stone. Rails also will be upgraded, and the entire profile will be lowered by eight feet, giving drivers the ability to see from Haskell to Learnard or even Barker.
Right now, drivers idling in traffic find themselves staring at a giant concrete hump.
“It’s going to be a beautiful bridge,” Norton said. “It’ll be a really nice entryway.”