Kansas DOT Improves I-235 with Green Project
Getting the Green Light: Kansas DOT Begins Long-Awaited Reconstruction of Busy Wichita Traffic Exchange
The Kansas Department of Transportation’s (KDOT) Green Project, now underway on Interstate 235 in Wichita, will not only bring about dramatic improvements to traffic flow and safety along the busy corridor. It is also the first phase of the Wichita North Junction Project and is designed to set up I-235 to function with future phases that will reconstruct the troublesome North Junction interchange where I-235, I-135, and states routes K-254 and K-96 come into close proximity at what many call Wichita’s worst freeway interchange.
I-135, I-235, and K-254 were constructed in the 1960s to early 1970s, and K-96 was constructed in the early 1990s. About 100,000 cars and trucks a day use the Wichita North Junction; by 2050, over 160,000 vehicles are anticipated to use the interchange daily.
It is regularly jammed up at rush hours and averages four accidents a week, according to officials. It can be a daily nightmare for commuters from suburban cities in Sedgewick County to the north, such as Park City and Valley Center. As KDOT’s Wichita Metro Engineer Don Snyder relates, “During the morning peak flow period, congestion occurs from the SB I-135 exit to K-96, back on I-135 and then I-235 all of the way back to where K-96 merges onto I-235. Accidents along this route further compound the congestion.
“During the evening peak flows, congestion occurs beginning at the tight loop ramp from northbound I-135 to SB I-235, and can easily back traffic up on northbound I-135 and westbound K-96 for several miles. A separate directional connection for eastbound K-96 will be constructed to keep that movement from having to merge onto and then right back off of southbound I-135 and compete for lane space with other southbound I-135 through traffic. A two-lane flyover will be constructed to take northbound I-135 traffic to southbound I-235, eliminating the dreaded tight loop ramp, which currently must compete at the top of the ramp with westbound K-254 traffic.”
Rebuilding the North Junction is also an economic imperative, as then-Governor Jeff Colyer emphasized during the ceremony that announced the start of construction. Said Colyer, “It’s a bottleneck in the I-135 corridor, which links Wichita to I-70, the only east-west freeway crossing the state and a gateway for shipping manufactured goods to the west. Sedgwick County is absolutely essential and critical to the economic growth of the great state of Kansas. “The manufacturing base that is here – not only in aircraft but in other industries – is absolutely important. This is one of the great growth hubs of the state and part of that growth is the ability to transport our goods across the United States.”
Multiple Project Components
Work on the I-235 Green Project began on March 11, 2019; completion is planned for November 2021. KDOT is the project owner, the prime contractor is a joint venture with grading contractor Bergkamp Construction and bridge contractor King Construction, and the designer is Professional Engineering Consultants. More than a dozen subcontractors are also on the project. The project, which has a $65 million estimated cost, includes these primary components:
- Replacement of aging pavement
- Auxiliary lanes on I-235
- Permanent removal of the Seneca Street Bridge
- A rebuild of the Broadway Interchange
- Replacement and consolidation of structurally inadequate bridges over the Little
- Arkansas River
- Replacement of functionally obsolete bridges over Broadway Avenue
The Seneca Street Bridge over I-235 will be removed and not replaced. A new 40th Street connector road will be constructed to the north of I-235 to connect Seneca Street over to Meridian Avenue to replace the Seneca Street Bridge.
A Two-Decade Wait
The North Junction Project has been gestating for two decades, according to Tom Hein, KDOT ‘s Wichita Metro Public Affairs Manager. He reports, “A preliminary engineering study was completed in 1998, and was re-done in 2012. A new concept for the project, which eliminated one bridge and included a new local road on the north side of I-235, was developed in 2015. In September of that year, we held a public meeting in which concerns of the businesses and land owners who would be affected by right-of-way purchases were addressed.
“Another public meeting was held in November 2018, where the updated project concept was introduced. A bid letting took place in January 2019, and work on the Green Project commenced in early March.”
Hein adds that with construction underway, bi-weekly meetings are held between KDOT, the contractor, and subcontractors. “Partner meetings are key to this project, in order to coordinate work and stay on schedule for the calendar completion date. We had a lot of spring rain, which slowed things down, but we’re back on track now.”
Snyder reports that wick drains/perforated vertical drains were installed at the base of the new bridge berms being constructed for the new northbound I-235 bridge over Broadway Avenue. These are expected to reduce the amount of time it will take for initial consolidation and settlement of these deep fill sections.
Dramatically Transforming Traffic Flow
The future Gold and Purple projects, which have an estimated combined cost of $190 million, are currently under preliminary design. As Snyder explains, “Construction of the Green phase was necessary first, due to the condition of the bridges, plus it sets up the connections that will be constructed on the next Gold phase. The Gold phase will provide much-needed relief for the heaviest movements that cause congestion during the peak traffic flow time periods. The last Purple phase completes the re-alignment of both the north-south traffic and the east-west traffic, and eliminates the left entry-left exit ramps that are present in the current configuration.”
Hein comments that KDOT typically breaks up large endeavors like the North Junction Project to make them more manageable. “The Green Project itself replaces seven bridges with four – combining some bridges and eliminating others,” he points outs. “This part of the corridor sees traffic of around 46,000 vehicles one way and nearly 53,000 vehicles the other way every day.”
The Gold Project will improve safety and reduce congestion. The morning peak hour bottleneck causes major delays and operational failures on northbound I-235 from west of Broadway to southbound I-135 at K-96. This morning bottleneck will be alleviated by providing a two-lane direct connection from northbound I-235 to eastbound K-96 and an extended auxiliary lane along eastbound K-96 to the exit at Hillside.
The evening peak hour bottleneck causes major delays and operational failures on northbound I-135 from K-96 through the loop ramp and west of I-135 on southbound I-235. This evening bottleneck will be alleviated by replacing the existing loop ramp with a two-lane flyover direct connection. The Gold Project will also provide connections from northbound I-135 to eastbound K-254 and southbound I-135 to southbound I-235.
The Gold Project will replace the existing one-lane loop ramp from westbound K-96 to southbound I-135 with an improved two-lane loop ramp for handling projected traffic far into the future. It will add a continuous auxiliary lane on southbound I-135 from the loop ramp to 21st Street North.
The Purple Project will complete the remaining major infrastructure improvements. It will relocate mainlines of I-135 and K-254/I-235 including removing the left-off/left-on ramps, and complete interchange connections for all the major roadways (I-235/I-135/K-254).
Snyder comments, “When all of these improvements have been made, motorists will see much less congestion through the North Junction, and the improvements are much needed to handle the current traffic flows – not to mention the future traffic growth that is expected over the next 20 to 30 years and beyond.”