Kansas Turnpike Authority officials likely will score points with Kansas University football fans driving eastbound on Interstate 70 to attend home games this fall.
A construction project to widen the interstate to six lanes from four lanes is under way between the East Topeka and Lecompton interchanges. But road officials are pledging that two lanes of traffic will remain open each way along the 14-mile stretch on Saturdays when there are KU home football games.
"We've dealt with that before and learned our lesson," said David Jacobson, manager of the I-70 widening project for the KTA.
The $54 million project is being done to offset the increase in traffic along the stretch of I-70 between Lecompton and East Topeka and should be completed by 2007, Jacobson said.
"There's more of a chance for incidents and problems when there's more traffic," he said. "We don't want a situation like in Kansas City where there's an accident and it causes a major backup."
So far, KTA has continued to keep two lanes of traffic open in both directions, pleasing some commuters.
"I've seen times when they've taken highways down to one lane, and it was like being in big city traffic. So, this is fine with me," Topeka resident Pat Renner said while pumping gas into his vehicle at the Conoco service station along I-70.
But there have been some traffic impediments because of the construction. Some side roads and bridges have been temporarily closed because of hauling and bridge construction, Jacobson said. He said there have been closures along County Road 1029, East 500 and East 100 Road.
"We've pretty much finished up with them except we weren't able to get East 100 Road completely open, and we were hoping to have that done before school started," Jacobson said.
The closure has affected a Shawnee Heights School District bus route. Jafawn Burghart, assistant director of transportation for the district, said a couple of families live on East 100 Road on the north side of U.S. Highway 40. She said muddy roads and cars belonging to construction workers parked along the side of the road have made it difficult for the bus to drive on the roadway to the students.
"If we can't get through, the families bring their kids over to meet the bus," Burghart said. "We're working through it."
The bulk of grading and excavation work for the widening project is complete. Asphalt work has started in some places. Some paving has occurred in the eastbound lanes near County Road 1029, Jacobson said.
Recent showers have somewhat delayed the project. But, it's running on schedule for the most part, Jacobson said.
With about 20 percent of the project completed, the road occasionally has been limited to two or three lanes of traffic instead of four. But that has only been done during times when it's known there will be fewer drivers along I-70, Jacobson said.
In order to keep two lanes each for eastbound and westbound traffic, crews have constructed third lanes, one for each direction.
"We are trying to get as much as we can done on the new outside lanes," Jacobson said. "Once those are done, we'll shift traffic in both directions to using the two outside lanes."