West Wichita commuters can look forward to fewer traffic jams in about two years.
The Federal Highway Administration has granted approval to the city to build a $50 million bridge over the Big Ditch that will ease traffic congestion near Zoo Boulevard and I-235.
The bridge will allow northbound traffic to exit I-235, cross over the Big Ditch and connect to 13th Street on the west side.
Because Zoo Boulevard, I-235 and 13th Street are so close, there is no room to build a ramp for southbound traffic, said Jeff Longwell, Wichita vice-mayor. Those drivers will still use the I-235 and Zoo Boulevard interchange.
High traffic volume — more than 30,000 cars a day use Zoo Boulevard — and several accidents in the area prompted discussion for a solution, Longwell said. Engineers estimate that once the project is finished the amount of time it takes to get through the series of traffic lights on Zoo Boulevard near 13th Street will be cut by 10 to 15 minutes during rush hour.
"It's been a long time coming," Longwell said. "It's just so great to finally get it accomplished."
In 1992, the city conducted its first study of traffic congestion in the area and has conducted several studies since then. Longwell, who represents west Wichita on the City Council, said he has made this project a priority since he was elected in 2007.
"We've been working on this project for quite some time," he said.
The Kansas Department of Transportation helped lobby for the project and former Gov. Mark Parkinson wrote a letter in support of the bridge.
The city needed permission from the Federal Highway Administration to build an exit ramp off of an interstate highway.
No new taxes will be created to pay for the $50 million bridge. Funding for the project will come from the 1-cent sales tax money set aside for Kellogg and other highway construction, Longwell said.
The next step is to finalize design plans and buy the right of way before a project contractor is chosen. Longwell said the project will take 12-18 months to complete and he hopes to break ground on construction later this year.
"I'm just thrilled that we have been able to finally receive permission from Washington, D.C., and we can begin building now," Longwell said.