Topeka Mayor Michell De La Isla celebrated Wednesday the state and local partnership planning to spend more than $234 million to replace the Interstate 70 viaduct running through Topeka. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — State and local officials punctuated plans Wednesday for an overhaul of the heavily traveled, snake-shaped portion of Interstate 70 in Topeka by affirming a partnership agreement to improve safety for motorists, create jobs and gain traction with the new statewide transportation upgrade.
The project, estimated to cost $234 million, includes replacement of the Polk-Quincy Viaduct and expansion of I-70 to six lanes from MacVicar Avenue to Topeka Boulevard. Scheduled to begin in 2024, it would be primarily financed through the Kansas Department of Transportation. The work would remove a sharp curve on the viaduct and provide better options for vehicles entering or leaving downtown. It would require relocation of about 30 businesses.
Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, standing on ground north of the existing viaduct and competing with sounds of traffic, said during the event that more than a decade of debate and wrangling led to this juncture. Local government is committed to investing $20 million in the highway project, she said, and officials with the city and state signed an agreement pledging to build on past collaboration to advance the viaduct reconfiguration.
“This shows how we are working together as a community,” she said. “We are so grateful, so grateful for the momentum. Topeka, your time is now.”
Deterioration of the 58-year-old viaduct has required costly annual maintenance. The entrances and exits have proven inadequate for the growing volume of traffic. The sharp curve on I-70 has led unprepared motorists, including large trucks, to crash into concrete guardrails and block interstate traffic.
Gov. Laura Kelly said she’d driven on the viaduct for more than 30 years and understood the motivation of people wanting to improve the section of interstate passing through the city. She defined the abrupt curve on I-70 as “wicked.”
“I have been waiting for this for a very long time,” Kelly said. “As a longtime Topeka resident, I understand the significance of the Polk-Quincy project, and what a game changer it will be for Topekans and for all those traveling on I-70. It encourages travel. It encourages tourism. It supports our economic development by reinforcing our reputation as the crossroads of America.”
She said the Topeka highway project was part of her administration’s launch since January 2019 of 130 infrastructure projects valued at approximately $1.6 billion. With likely passage by Congress of a new U.S. infrastructure bill, she said, Kansas could expect to receive historic levels of federal investment in roads and bridges throughout the next decade.
Primary funding for the Topeka project will be drawn from the bipartisan Eisenhower transportation program established by the 2020 Kansas Legislature. The Topeka construction plan is among eight KDOT projects valued at about $300 million woven into the Eisenhower initiative.
“Polk-Quincy will be a landmark project for this community and our state,” said KDOT secretary Julie Lorenz, who vowed to put people at the center of the state’s infrastructure improvements. “Roads and bridges and viaducts are the means to an end, but it’s really improving peoples’ lives that is the end we’re going for.”
She said the Kelly administration’s commitment to reduce and eliminate transfers of cash from the state highway fund to the general treasury had created the stability needed to proceed with significant transportation expansion in Kansas.
KDOT plans to grant the Kansas Historical Society access to right-of-way acquired for the project to search for artifacts that could be tied to the city’s founding. The new viaduct will cover portions of the Old Topeka Settlement, and removal of buildings and streets will open up possibilities of locating buried history.
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