Work to expand west leg of SLT to 4 lanes picks up speed; construction to begin later this year

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas Highway 10, or the South Lawrence Trafficway, is shown at the U.S. Highway 59/Iowa Street interchange in this file photo from June 2017.

Many a white-knuckled driver on the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway likely thinks of a particular number as they seek a gap — or perhaps divine intervention — to make a pass on the busy highway.

The number: Four. As in, when are they ever going to make this !%&@# highway a four-lane road?

The answer remains: Not soon enough to do anything about this 1989 Yugo in front of you. But, such stressed motorists can start thinking of a new number: One, as in one month.

Indeed, plans to expand the western leg of the SLT to a four-lane highway are now one month away from becoming very real. A Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman confirmed the state will accept bids for the approximately $175 million expansion project next month. That puts the project on track to begin construction work later this year.

“It is here, finally,” Kate Craft, KDOT spokeswoman for the northeast region of Kansas, said.

The idea of expanding the western half of the SLT to four lanes has been on the drawing board since 2014, and it has been a particular point of emphasis of local leaders since 2016, when the eastern half of the SLT opened as a four-lane highway.

That’s meant for the last eight years, as westbound motorists on the bypass crossed over Iowa Street, they’ve had to rapidly adjust to the four-lane highway becoming a two-lane highway. The transition sometimes is treacherous, and the western leg of the SLT has been the site of multiple serious accidents.

Traffic volumes on the road have grown, heightening safety concerns. For those reasons, it hasn’t been a tough sell to get KDOT leaders to include the expansion on the state’s list of major highway projects. But that doesn’t mean it has been quick. The final design of the road, alone, has taken two years, and was just recently completed.

The construction won’t be quick either. The project’s timeline calls for construction to be completed in late 2028. But the good news is that traffic disruptions on the SLT — which is also Kansas Highway 10 — are expected to be minimal during the course of the project.

“K-10 will remain open throughout the entire project,” Craft said.

Craft said the most likely impact for K-10 motorists would be a few areas of reduced speed limits, if constructions crews who are building the additional two lanes of the road are working particularly close to the existing lanes of traffic.

The road is designed to be a four-lane highway that is separated by a median. That median, according to the project’s website, also is being designed to be wide enough to accommodate a couple of additional lanes of traffic, if the road ever needs to become a six-lane highway in the future.

Motorists on some key side streets leading up to the SLT may face some construction delays, at times. Wakarusa Drive is one street that is significantly going to change near the trafficway.

If you recall, there is a traffic signal on the SLT currently where Wakarusa/27th Street intersects with the highway. It is a busy traffic signal as well because it leads to the entrance of the YSI complex, home to soccer, football, baseball fields and a city-run arboretum, among other amenities.

As we have reported, that intersection is going away. Instead, a new bridge will be built, and the SLT will travel above Wakarusa Drive. Traditional exit and entrance ramps will be built to get traffic on and off the roads. Plus, the new stretch of Wakarusa Drive will have new features for bicyclists and pedestrians to enter and exit the sports complex.

photo by: Kansas Department of Transportation

The planned design for the SLT and Wakarusa Drive/27th Street interchange is shown.

That’s the only new interchange that is being built as part of the project. Some people ask whether an interchange will be built where the SLT nearly connects Kasold Drive. While some advocated for that interchange, it did not make its way into the final design.

Three existing interchanges, however, will be redesigned. The Iowa Street/U.S. Highway 59 interchange, the Clinton Parkway interchange and the Kansas Turnpike/I-70 interchange all will be significantly different after the project is complete.

photo by: Kansas Department of Transportation

The planned design for the SLT and I-70/Kansas Turnpike interchange is shown.

In fact, the Kansas Turnpike/I-70 project is so large that it is kind of considered its own separate project within a project. That work won’t be included in the June bid letting. Instead, it is scheduled to be bid in late 2025, with construction work beginning in 2026 and lasting through 2028.

The Clinton Parkway interchange will be different, in large part, because the route of the SLT will change significantly in that location. That stretch of road currently has a pretty sharp curve. (I’m required to have Windex in the car to wipe off the cheek marks on the passenger side window.) The new design will make that curve much more gradual.

photo by: Kansas Department of Transportation

The planned design of the Clinton Parkway and SLT interchange is shown.

While the plan is for construction work to begin on the four-lane expansion this year, Craft said the work probably will be preliminary preparations. The large amounts of construction work probably won’t be real visible until the spring of 2025.

And then you will see them for a quite a while. Craft is hoping the work will remind motorists that better days are ahead.

“It is going to be a big improvement,” Craft said. “The corridor is going to be a lot safer and a lot smoother. It has been a long time coming. Give us a few years, and it will be great.”

photo by: Kansas Department of Transportation

The planned designs for the SLT and Iowa Street/U.S. Highway 59 interchange is shown.


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