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Kansas DOT Upgrades US 83 for Better Traffic Flow

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews pave a section of the new U.S. 83 between Haskell and Finney County, Kansas. The new roadway replaces the existing U.S. 83, which will be removed when construction is complete.
Crews pave a section of the new U.S. 83 between Haskell and Finney County, Kansas. The new roadway replaces the existing U.S. 83, which will be removed when construction is complete.
U.S. 83 is one of the longest North-South routes in the country. One can drive it from North Dakota down to Texas. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is reconstructing one 11-mile stretch of U.S. 83 that runs through Haskell and Finney County in the southwestern part of the state.

For many years, KDOT and area stakeholders have identified the U.S. 83 corridor as important route for improvement. The pavement on this part of the route is approximately 50 years old and has a history of rutting, fatigue cracking, and thermal transverse cracking.

Running one lane in each direction over this span, capacity is also an issue. The average daily traffic in 2016 was 4,450 vehicles and the traffic is projected to reach 6,650 vehicles by 2036.

Approximately one-third of the traffic is from semis and other truck traffic. The area is home to the agricultural industry and is a regular route for those going to and from the feed yards. It was determined that this important freight route was in need of reconstruction due to the poor quality of the road, capacity issues, and limited passing opportunities.

Foundation Issues
KDOT tried to rehab the road, but it did not work. “We would do a mill and overlay and then get the cracking again in a year,” said Craig Schlott, Project Engineer for KDOT, who is serving in an administrative role on the project. “We did a core sample and the top 1 to 4 inches looked fine, but the bottom was stripped, so we knew we had to replace the entire roadbed.”

An alternative route is approximately 30 miles away, and with 3-foot shoulders instead of 10-foot shoulders, it’s not as wide so shutting down the road to work on it would have been a significant issue for traffic. Therefore, KDOT decided to do a realignment and reconstruction of U.S. 83.

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“We’re following the existing roadway and the offset is not very far,” said Schlott. Upon completion, they’ll remove the existing road.

The new road will see passing and turning lanes to improve traffic flow and reduce delays. The passing lanes will cover approximately two miles, while the turn lanes will be installed at some higher traffic side roads that lead to grain elevators and feed lots.

“When you travel on a road with semis, it can be difficult,” said Schlott. Besides the semis associated with the agricultural industry, there’s lots of truck traffic with oversized loads related to wind turbines in the area.

Both of these types of vehicles may be going below the speed limit and passing them is difficult. This leads to slowdowns and backups. The increased length of passing lanes will help keep traffic moving.

All Part of the Plan
This project was originally part of Kansas’ T-WORKS 10-year transportation plan, which the state developed in 2010. All projects associated with the plan were suspended in 2016 due to state budget constraints. However, because of the project’s importance, it remained a high priority for the area and was re-instated in 2020.

The states most recent 10-year transportation plan – Ike – had a whole new set of infrastructure projects. However, “all of the projects that were suspended are moving forward before we focus on new projects as we are determined to fulfill our promises,” said Lisa Knoll KDOT Public Affairs Manager.

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The construction budget for this project is $24 million and it’s being financed with 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funds.

Schlott notes that the project is on budget and he expects it to stay that way. He credits the well-done plans and the way KDOT bids projects. “Our projects are bid line items for every item, so if the plans are accurate then we are normally on budget,” said Schlott.

The only item that differed from the plans so far was the need to install temporary pipes and drainage between roads since a ditch cut into the existing road. The pipes were needed due to the extreme weather the area experienced – 12 inches of rain during a three-week period in July. “We don’t typically get much rain in this part of the state, but when it does rain, it can be quite a bit,” said Schlott.

The contractor on the project is Kansas based, Venture Corporation. They have worked on many state projects and are familiar with KDOT.

Utility Challenges
Prior to the project being shut down in 2016, the team had started doing utility and right of way. Work restarted in February 2020 and is expected to be complete in July.

Schlott says the project is on schedule or even a bit ahead. The warm fall weather allowed the team to get the work done they needed for the season.

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The contractor had to work around a challenge to keep the project on schedule.

AT&T had a fiber line and phone line that could not be moved when the project restarted because it was right around when COVID-19 hit. “Even thought the new line had already been installed, since the old line carries 911 they felt they couldn’t shut it down to switch it over,” said Schlott. There was fill around the new line and it could not be cut.

Ultimately, the move occurred in August. The contractor, however, was able to work around where the existing line was and stay on schedule.

When the realignment and reconstruction of the new U.S. 83 is complete, motorists will enjoy improved road conditions and a reduction in traffic delays. Cars will be able to travel at greater speeds and no longer get caught behind trucks and semis, enabling them to travel up and down the lengthy U.S. 83.

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