The long wait ends Friday: a safer K-150 to reopen

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
After two years of reconstruction, Kansas Highway 150 from U.S. Highway 56 at Marion to U.S. Highway 50 at Elmdale is scheduled to reopen Friday, just in time for the Labor Day weekend.

That doesn’t mean you ought to drive over it ahead of time to look at it, said Brice Goebel, state construction engineer for the project.

Not only is it illegal for non-local traffic to be on the road before it is opened, but his agency, the Kansas Department of Transportation, has no responsibility for welfare of drivers if they would have problems on it.

Goebel, who is stationed at Marion and has had major responsibility for the project, said the reconstruction represents a massive effort in earth moving, paring down hills and filling valleys.

The big earth-moving equipment involved during the past two years would probably make a vivid contrast to the “hand labor, carts and buggies” over perhaps as much as 10 years during the highway’s original construction earlier in the 1900s, he said.

When you first travel the highway again, one of the first things you might notice is the smoothness of the 9.5-inch thick, 30-foot wide concrete pavement. It was selected as the best pavement poured in 2002 by the association representing Missouri and Kansas contractors, Goebel said.

The surface includes two 12-foot wide lanes with 3-foot concrete shoulders on either side, plus 5 feet of rock shoulder on each side, too.

Goebel contrasts that with the 24-foot wide surface before reconstruction.

Another startling thing you might notice, Goebel said, is that even though there may be some spots on the highway where you shouldn’t pass, there are no marked no-passing zones, except at the ends where you must slow for stop signs.

The 8-mile section of K-150 in Marion County required 335,000 cubic meters of excavation work, which includes all of the dirt-moving material, bringing it in, and removing rock even on the shoulders.

Goebel said the Marion County section was bid in at $6.23 million on the original contract, but with change orders during construction, it won’t be the final price.

The original contractor was Wittwer Inc. of Wichita, but when the company was unable to fulfill the financial obligations of the contract, Goebel said, the bonding company involved selected Duit Construction Co. Inc. to finish.

At the time, Duit was an Oklahoma company, but since then has moved operations to Wichita to fulfill Kansas contracts.

The Chase County section, bid in at $17.3 million original contract price, was included under the same companies because the state requires such contracts to be “tied’ together, Goebel explained.

The 9-mile Chase County section, with its steeper Flint Hills terrain required 1.45 million cubic meters of material moved. The pavement width is the same.

Goebel noted that all the dirt work was accomplished while at the same time “making a concerted effort to inform residents along the way.”

When a resident’s highway access was cut off, KDOT and the contractors made sure to provide each one with temporary vehicle access to home.

Perhaps 100 to 200 workers have been involved in the K-150 project that, when considered with the 12 to 13 KDOT employees at Marion, adds an economic impact to the area.

By last Friday morning, the construction crew was finishing paint-striping the highway.

Goebel said the crew was “temporary seeding,” and protecting with spread hay a 50-50 mixture of ryegrass and foxtail millet. He said KDOT will do something a little more like the native prairie, “or else as natural as we can get it,” this winter by seeding a mix of eight or nine grasses.

In most places, widening was accomplished with the state purchasing more right-of-way from adjacent owners, Goebel said. Sometimes this involved 30 or 40 feet, but some of the expanses required for fill in Chase County moved it up to as much as 100 feet.

All of the county roads now have concrete approaches built up to the highway instead of many being gravel all of the way.

One of the first areas of great change eastbound motorists will notice is the cutting down of a hill at about the Mark Collett residence and the filling of a valley further east coming to the Dave Thomas residence.

At the Thomas residence, you can look back for more than a mile when previously the view was obstructed by a hill.

At 65 mph, a change of 2 feet in incline elevation affects travel significantly, Goebel said. “It should change our problems with blowing snow very much, too.”

The hill cuts and valley fills become much bigger going into Chase County. By the time you get to the Panther Ranch, two hills have been cut out before reaching microwave tower hill, and you are riding 46 or 47 feet above the former highway bed.

In this area, Goebel pointed out, the view looking back west has been extended to nearly 2.5 miles.

In places where the hills are cut, you can look up to the rock layers to a different color of rock, at the top which is where the ditches of the old highway ran.

One large drainage area features double 8-feet-by-8-feet box culverts under the highway that are 400 feet long and required 1,200 cubic meters of concrete to pour-well over 1,400 cubic yards.

At first, “microwave tower hill” doesn’t look that different until you realize the right-of-way was shifted south to help straighten the highway for those longer views and gentler grades.

From that hill to the eastern end of K-150, it’s now entirely downhill, Goebel said, even where it looks like you might be temporarily going uphill.

Goebel looks for K-150 to become a heavily traveled thoroughfare, especially with it opening on Labor Day weekend. It is expected to relieve some truck traffic on U.S. 56.

Others expect it to be heavily traveled too. Goebel said three Kansas Highway Patrol officers have called him to let them know the minute it is opened.

That alone should be encouragement enough to take it easy your first time through.

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