For Kansas highway drivers, this succession of signs seems like an oxymoron:
TOLL PLAZA AHEAD
DO NOT STOP
Those are the instructions for a new high-speed toll lane — the first of its kind in the state — that just opened at the Kansas Turnpike’s eastern terminal near Bonner Springs.
Westbound drivers with a K-Tag can keep left to cruise through a gateless toll lane and onto the Turnpike without slowing below normal highway speeds.
For now, with ongoing construction in the area, the speed limit through the fast lane is 55 mph. However, when construction is finished and workers are out of the way the speed limit will be 75 mph, or full highway speed, Kansas Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Rachel Bell said.
“This is a very big deal for our customers, and for KTA,” Bell said.
The single westbound fast-lane opened to traffic on Aug. 24, Bell said. When the toll plaza reconstruction project is complete, anticipated by November of this year, there will be two fast-lanes for westbound traffic getting onto the Turnpike and two for eastbound traffic getting off.
For drivers who don’t have K-Tags or compatible transponders from other states, there are still tollbooths. All of those will read K-Tags, but you’ll still have to slow down to 10 mph.
The Turnpike calls the new fast-lanes “open road tolling,” Bell said.
And more are planned at the highway’s other two “main line” toll plazas, where vehicles pass through a toll plaza but don't get off or on the highway.
The eastern terminal reconstruction project — which began in March and is budgeted at $16.5 million — is the first of the three similar projects, Bell said. All are funded by toll revenues.
The Turnpike’s eastern terminal is located at mile marker 217, about 13 miles east of Lawrence and 7 miles west of Bonner Springs.
The next place to get open road tolling will be the eastern Topeka toll plaza at mile marker 182, where traffic merges with Interstate 70. Construction on the Topeka project is scheduled for 2018 and budgeted at $17.6 million, Bell said.
The third is the Turnpike’s southern terminal at mile marker 4, near the Oklahoma border. The southern terminal project is scheduled for 2019 and budgeted at $15.6 million, Bell said.
In the meantime, the concept is new to Kansas drivers.
Some hesitation and confusion have been evident at the newly opened fast-lane at the eastern terminal but no major problems, Bell said Thursday.
“We know it’s kind of a new thing; everybody’s trying to figure out where they need to be,” Bell said.
Mirroring typical highway traffic flow that drivers should be used to, the road at the new toll plaza forks so that fast-lane vehicles keep left while slower traffic keeps right to stop at the tollbooths, Bell said.
If cash- or card-paying drivers mistakenly go through the open road tolling lane and get on the Turnpike without taking a ticket, they should just talk to the toll collector when they exit, Bell said. If they accidentally get off the Turnpike without paying, their license plate is scanned and they should receive a bill.
If you are using the new fast lane — whether you meant to be there, or got confused and ended up there — Bell said the most important thing for everyone's safety is to heed that sign.
“Don’t stop,” she said. “Keep moving.”
Construction zone safety reminder
The Kansas Turnpike’s eastern terminal, near Bonner Springs, has been under construction since March and will remain an active construction zone that Lawrence-Kansas City travelers must deal with until late this year.
The westbound lanes approaching the terminal were the site of a pileup that killed five people in July, when a tractor-trailer plowed into a line of slowed vehicles and caught fire.
For much of 2018, drivers between Lawrence and Topeka will face a similar construction zone, around the east Topeka exit.
Authorities urge drivers to pay extra attention in construction zones, where workers are on scene just feet from passing vehicles.
“It’s really important to remember during construction, and really at all times, that it’s a partnership,” Turnpike spokeswoman Rachel Bell said. “We put up signage and take the precautions on our end … but we need the drivers’ help to make sure that everybody gets home safely.”