Jul. 7—More improvements for Sedgwick County’s notorious North Junction and three other south-central Kansas road projects were announced Wednesday by Gov. Laura Kelly.
The projects, totaling $129 million in construction costs, will address transportation needs in Sedgwick, Sumner, Harvey and Marion counties, including a historically deadly stretch of U.S. Highway 50 between Burrton and Peabody.
The North Junction exchange ties together four highways: I-135, I-235, K-96 and K-254. It’s a commuter’s nightmare that backs up morning and evening on virtually a daily basis.
Construction is already underway at the site on earlier phases of interchange reconstruction.
The phase Kelly announced Wednesday — known as Gold Plan 2B — will include replacement of the interchange loop from eastbound K-96 to southbound I-135 with a flyover; improvements to the K-96 to northbound I-135 ramp; widening of I-135 south of K-96; and upgrading of 19 bridges in the project area.
That $86 million project is the lion’s share of the local spending and is scheduled for contract letting next year, according to Kelly and the state Department of Transportation.
Funding includes $50 million from the state, $21 million from the federal government and $15 million in local tax monies.
The other projects include:
— Lengthening of three passing zones on U.S. 50. That stretch of road is notorious for high-speed head-on crashes as motorists attempt to pass slow-moving farm trucks and semis that use it as a toll-free bypass around the Kansas Turnpike between Emporia and Wichita.
That project will cost $10 million and consist of three miles of new pavement to extend the existing passing lanes in east and northwest Harvey County and southern Marion County. It’s scheduled for contract letting in 2023.
— Providing full-width paved safety shoulders on K-42 from 71st Street South through southwest Sedgwick County to the K-2 junction in north Sumner County. The 16-mile, $19 million project is scheduled for letting in 2023.
— Adding shoulders on U.S. 160 between I-35 and the town of Oxford, west of Winfield. The 9-mile project is scheduled for letting in 2023.
KDOT could not provide drive-on dates for any of the new projects.
The road improvements are part of the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program launched by Kelly and the Kansas Legislature in April of last year.
In a news conference announcing the project attended by numerous local officials and road-improvement fans, Kelly said in the 1950s and ’60s, Kansas spent as much as 30% of its budget on transportation infrastructure, meaning that out of every $10 in state spending, $3 went to transportation.
“By 2018, we were only spending 70 cents” out of $10, she said. “That is unacceptable.”
She compared highway financing to the Olympic torch relay, where each runner has to complete his or her leg in the allotted time or the whole procession falls apart.
With road improvements, “each generation has to do its part to carry the torch,” she said.
Part of the local urgency of fixing the North Junction is to facilitate truck traffic, including to and from the mammoth order-fulfillment center that online retail titan Amazon is building in Park City, just north of the freeway bottleneck.
“Amazon will be a real beneficiary of the work that we’re doing here,” Kelly said. “Kansas is perfectly positioned to sort of be the distribution center of the country, but distribution requires good, good infrastructure.
“We’re doing it all at once. We’re building the infrastructure and attracting the businesses. Those businesses will then help us pay for maintaining the infrastructure and enhancing it as we go forward.”
State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said the road hardships people are undergoing now is actually “a result of economic success,” meaning that we have traffic jams because people are trying to get to and from here to do business.
While it may not be any fun to sit in traffic on the loops of the North Junction today, “the end game is going to be great for south-central Kansas,” she said.
Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz said she’s looking forward to returning to the Wichita area for groundbreakings once the contracts are let. “More importantly I look forward to the ribbon cuttings,” she said.
She said the new work won’t slow down projects already planned under T-WORKS, an earlier state transportation program that has seen delays as the Legislature shifted money to close budget gaps in recent years.