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Reconfiguring Wichita’s North Junction Advances

by: Debra Wood
Multiple cranes are used to lift the flyover beams into place. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Multiple cranes are used to lift the flyover beams into place. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Crews lift a steel beam into place. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Crews lift a steel beam into place. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Crews pour concrete. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Crews pour concrete. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Workers bolt the beams together. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Workers bolt the beams together. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Crews lift a steel beam into place. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Crews lift a steel beam into place. (Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Transportation)
Multiple cranes are used to lift the flyover beams into place. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Multiple cranes are used to lift the flyover beams into place. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Crews pour concrete. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Crews pour concrete. (Photo courtesy of Dodlinger Construction)
Work progresses on the Kansas Department of Transportation’s $38 million second phase of the Wichita North Junction project to improve traffic flow at a bottleneck interchange of four highways that serves as a gateway to the north side of the city. Interstate 135, Interstate 235 and K-254 were constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and K-96 the early 1990s. The interchange was in need of an upgrade.

“This project eliminates a loop ramp at the junction that has caused congestion and traffic backup during peak hours for many years,” says Joe Ausillio, Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) local Construction Engineer. “The loop ramp is being replaced with a new two-lane flyover that will eliminate the worst bottleneck in Wichita’s highway system.”

“The daily back-ups on northbound I-235 to southbound I-135 in the morning commuter rush and northbound I-135 to southbound I-235 in the afternoon are the major issues with the interchange,” says Don Snyder, Wichita KDOT Metro Engineer. “But congestion can also occur when a traffic incident occurs or with a construction or maintenance activity.”

About 97,000 vehicles drive the North Junction daily, including 10 percent trucks. The department anticipates that traffic will increase to 160,000 vehicles daily by 2050.

“The North Junction is a vital component of Wichita’s, and south-central Kansas,’ transportation system, serving commuters, the freight industry, visitors to the Wichita area and other travelers,” says Tom Hein, Wichita Metro Public Affairs Manager for KDOT.

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Chad Parasa, Executive Director of the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WAMPO), adds, the “North Junction project is a great example of enhancing safety, connectivity and economic development for the commuters in the South Central Kansas area.”

The state’s 10-year Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program (IKE) provided monies for the interchange projects. The program addresses transportation needs that make roads safer, support economic growth and create resources for the people of Kansas and their communities.

“This project also won a federal grant due to the unique partnership and collaboration of the city of Wichita, Sedgwick County, KDOT, and various governmental jurisdictions within and outside the WAMPO area,” Parasa adds. “This project also won support from the public as well as business communities, primarily due to its positive impacts on improving safety, connectivity and economic development.”

Tania Cole, Assistant County Manager for Sedgwick County, praised the regional collaboration, saying, “We are fortunate to be in a community that has been able to work together for decades to bring critical regional transportation projects to life.”

Cost Share Program Brings Gold
KDOT began preparing for the project in 2015 with a concept study, which led to a phased plan. The current work is the second, “Gold” phase.

The first $65 million phase, started in March 2019 and completed in November 2021, prepared I-235 to function during future phases. That included replacing aging pavement, adding auxiliary lanes, removing the Seneca Street bridge, rebuilding the Broadway interchange, and replacing the Little Arkansas River and Broadway bridges.

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The current Gold phase 2A, built a new southbound I-135 ramp to southbound I-235, which opened in September 2022, and replaced the I-235 bridge over railroad tracks. Other work still underway, includes replacing the existing ramp from northbound I-135 to southbound I-235 with a flyover and extending the acceleration lane from westbound K-254 to southbound I-135. The funding for this phase came from the KDOT Cost Share Program, with monies from the city of Wichita and Sedgwick County.

“Without partnerships with the city of Wichita, Sedgwick County, and the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization plus the 10-year IKE [funding], this subphase of a much larger project would have been delayed by two years,” Hein reports. “Local jurisdictions pushed this project forward and helped KDOT bring this important piece of the interchange make-over to a sooner construction timeline.”

The Gold phase 2A phase is scheduled for completion by the end of 2023. Profession Engineering Consultants of Wichita serves as the prime consultant for the design of the project in conjunction with KDOT construction engineering designers.

The next phase, Gold 2B aims to improve safety and decrease congestion and address peak morning bottlenecks by creating a two-lane connection from northbound I-235 to eastbound K-96 and by replacing the loop ramp from westbound K-96 to southbound I-135 with a flyover and a two-lane ramp to allow the flow of traffic from westbound K-96 to northbound I-135. Wichita and Sedgwick County received a $21 million a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant for construction of this $86 million project, set to begin in early 2023.

The final Purple phase is estimated to cost $114 million, and there are no plans for completing the construction of this phase at this time.

Gold 2A Construction Activity and Challenges
Dondlinger Construction of Wichita received the construction contract and began work on Gold 2A in April 2021. The company has completed portions of the project, including a new ramp and bridge over railroad tracks. Currently, the flyover work is under way.
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“Progress on the two-lane flyover bridge for the northbound 135 to southbound 235 ramp is the major work item,” Hein says. The steel beams are fabricated and brought to the jobsite. Staging requires weekend, daytime lane and ramp closures when the beams are lifted into place.

“The most challenging part of the project is dealing with the traffic,” says Mark Wisner, Project Superintendent for Dondlinger Construction. “The larger bridge spans nine different lanes of high-speed traffic over six separate interstate roadways. Safety of our workers and the traveling public is our top priority.”

Lane and ramp closures have been limited to between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, with major closures through the interchange scheduled for night times or weekends, when traffic is less.

“The coordination of material delivery, equipment movement and delivery within the project, and just getting our workers from point A to point B is an everyday challenge due to the high volume of traffic flow within our project limits,” Wisner adds.

Prior to starting on the flyover, crews built a new bridge along the new northbound I-135 exit ramp. There were three gas company lines, including a high-pressure line in the vicinity.

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“There was a concern that ground vibration caused by steel pile driving could possibly reach or exceed the gas company’s allowed tolerances,” Wisner says. “KDOT developed a ground vibration monitoring special provision that was added to the contract. Dondlinger brought on a specialty testing consultant, which performed the vibration monitoring using ground sensors. The vibrations recorded during steel pile driving were well within tolerance.”

Much of the project is being built in a floodplain and required federal and state permitting. Another environmental concern was the reduction of a small lake, already owned by KDOT, to enable placement of a new ramp. Crews filled in 3.2 acres of the lake’s 22.4 acres.

Dondlinger and subcontractor Bergkamp Construction of Wichita, are using GPS machine-controlled equipment when moving dirt. Both companies share GPS files and models for the layout and contouring of the project, Wisner says.

The intersection is scheduled for completion in September 2023, with all work wrapped up by January 2024.

“I would be most proud of changing the landscape of Wichita for many years to come and the fact this project will make travel in this area much safer,” Wisner concludes.

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