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KS - Turnpike Authority eyes road reconstruction east of Lawrence

KS - Turnpike Authority eyes road reconstruction east of Lawrence
August 21, 2009

A $130 million project to replace bridges, overhaul interchanges and otherwise upgrade the Kansas Turnpike as it passes through the northern edge of Lawrence remains on track for completion by the middle of 2011 — while another small stretch of the highway still awaits a refresher.

A five-mile section of the turnpike, starting a mile east of the East Lawrence interchange and running just past the Lawrence service area, will be revamped sometime during the next decade, turnpike officials say.

And while no schedule has been set, officials know that the work must be done. The section’s pavement already is 50 years old, and in need of an overhaul to continue carrying the average 29,000 vehicles it handles each day.

“This is a major capital project,” said Lisa Callahan, a spokeswoman for the turnpike authority. “We know, definitely, that this five-mile section of pavement, in the next 10 years, will have to be replaced.”

The project is being reviewed by engineers for inclusion in the turnpike’s next list of long-term needs. Also being considered are projects to replace bridges — both along and over the turnpike — that have passed or are approaching 50 years of age.

The turnpike’s board of directors, by the end of next year, will be expected to approve a list of projects and set an anticipated construction schedule. Michael Johnston, the turnpike’s president and CEO, has confirmed that the pavement-replacement east of Lawrence would come sometime during the next 10 years.

“It isn’t imminent,” Callahan said.

Whether the reconstruction will include any additional lanes remains unclear.

From 2003 to 2007, the turnpike rebuilt a 13.4-mile stretch of turnpike west of Lawrence, between the Lecompton and East Topeka interchanges. That $54 million construction job widened the turnpike from four to six lanes, to keep up with increased traffic.

The Lecompton-to-East Topeka section of turnpike carried an average of 34,500 vehicles per day last year, making it the most-traveled stretch of the 236-mile turnpike that runs from Wyandotte County to the Oklahoma border.

And while the section between the East Lawrence interchange and the Eastern Terminal in Johnson County ranks No. 2 in terms of traffic use, the turnpike’s long-term projections don’t call for more lanes anytime soon.

“It’s not in our foreseeable future,” Callahan said. “It would not make good business sense for us, at that level of traffic, to widen that area.”

Rex Fleming, turnpike project engineer for the ongoing upgrades already under way in Lawrence, said rebuilding the five-mile stretch of highway east of town likely would be a two-year job, whenever it might occur. Traffic likely would be reduced to one lane in each direction as construction continued.

“It’s one of the last pieces of original concrete that we have,” Fleming said. “We’ll have to go down to dirt, take out the concrete pavement and build back up to the top. … The turnpike’s a 50-year-old facility. It has to be maintained.”

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