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Wichita City Council poised to sign off on Big Ditch bridge project

The area at the curve on 13th Street, west of Zoo Boulevard looking east, where the proposed I-235/13th Street Improvements bridge over the Big Ditch will connect with 13th Street. (February 2011)
The area at the curve on 13th Street, west of Zoo Boulevard looking east, where the proposed I-235/13th Street Improvements bridge over the Big Ditch will connect with 13th Street. (February 2011) File photo

A new bridge over the Big Ditch, targeting traffic congestion at one of the city’s busiest intersections, is still about two years away.

But the final stages of that work should be set in motion Tuesday, when Wichita City Council members are expected to sign off on spending the remaining $35 million for the $50 million floodway bypass, which will connect I-235 to 13th Street in west Wichita.

The traffic snarl at I-235 and Zoo Boulevard has long been a target of city officials.

“This project is one of those that solves a problem,” Vice Mayor Janet Miller said. “This is an extremely important project, one of the pinchpoints most commented on to us from the people who travel it every day.”

Miller said the intersection has become a key travel point for residents, shoppers and entertainment consumers as the west side of Wichita has grown.

“With more people living on the west side, with more services and entertainment to serve them, we’ve simply got more people coming and going to live and work than the intersection can handle,” she said.

When the project is finished, city engineer Gary Janzen said, much of that traffic problem should be alleviated.

The project funding, covered by the local sales tax fund that receives the city’s share of a countywide 1-cent sales tax, is included in the adopted 2011-2020 Capital Improvement Program.

It covers the second and third phases of the bypass project, including the realignment and paving of Hoover Road from Ninth to 13th Street and the construction of the bypass itself. Work on both should begin in early 2013, with completion of the bypass set for Thanksgiving 2014, Janzen said. Once complete, the project will give drivers access to southbound I-235 from 13th Street west of the Big Ditch and let drivers exit northbound I-235 to 13th Street west of the Big Ditch.

The council had previously allocated $15 million to the project, including $5 million in 2011 for the widening of 13th Street and Ridge to handle the anticipated traffic increase generated by the bypass. That project was recently completed, including a second left-turn lane to channel more vehicles from southbound Ridge onto 13th Street. It also added a second right-hand turn lane on 13th Street to allow more cars to head north on Ridge.

Also Tuesday, the council is expected to approve $7 million in industrial revenue bonds to finance the expansion of the Kansas Health Foundation at 309 E. Douglas in downtown Wichita, part of the first city block to be completely redeveloped under Project Downtown, the city’s master plan for downtown revitalization.

The expansion will include the new headquarters and training facility for the Kansas Leadership Center, a non-profit created by the health foundation in 2005 to increase community and state leaders.

Also included is a conference center, with a mix of large and small meeting spaces and a town-hall space that seats 200.

The bonds will be sold to investors and carry no financial risk to the city. The health foundation is not requesting a tax abatement for the project.

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