The new U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence — already a two-part project — is set to be split in two yet again.
More than a year after the highway’s four-lane section opened to traffic in Franklin County, contractors are preparing to start paving the portion in Douglas County.
“We’ll start making progress,” said Jason Van Nice, the Kansas Department of Transportation’s construction manager on the project “It’ll look like a real road. We’ve got a nice four-lane dirt highway right now.”
With excavation and site preparation nearly complete, attention will turn to paving operations split into two sections:
• From the county line north to a new interchange at North 650 Road, crews will pour 23,640 cubic yards of concrete into a layer 8.5 inches thick. The first of more than 2,300 mixer trucks will start arriving on site during the first week of October.
• North of there, connecting the new interchange with the existing four-lane portion of U.S. 59 just south of Lawrence, crews will spread 79,100 tons of asphalt into a path 12 inches thick. That work is not expected to begin until spring.
The switch from concrete to asphalt is intended to help the new highway endure as it passes over Pleasant Grove Hill, a shifting mound of soil that already delayed the massive construction project 12 months so that the exposed earth could settle.
Engineers figure there’s no sense risking a section of the new freeway to Mother Nature’s perpetual give and take of hot and cold.
“With the geology in there, it could cause that pavement to move a little bit,” Van Nice said. “Asphalt moves a lot better than concrete does.”
And with more than $100 million being invested in the Douglas County portion of the new highway, engineers are certain the change of materials will be well worth it down the road in the form of smoother travel and less maintenance.
“Concrete cracks and crumbles and falls apart,” Van Nice said. “Asphalt shifts a little bit.”
The highway should be finished and open for traffic by the end of 2012, adhering to a revised timeline set when soil complications at Pleasant Grove spurred plan revisions.
With concrete down and asphalt in place, crews will turn their attention to signs and lane markings and other details before drivers can start taking advantage of the new U.S. 59’s four lanes, freeway interchanges, roadside shoulders and other safety improvements.
“We’re getting close,” Van Nice said. “We’re hoping by Thanksgiving of next year.”