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Wichita City Council OKs money for Big Ditch bypass

Engineers' rendering of the proposed I-235/13th Street Improvements bridge over the Big Ditch. (February 2011)
Engineers' rendering of the proposed I-235/13th Street Improvements bridge over the Big Ditch. (February 2011)

A bypass over the Big Ditch, essential to the growth of west Wichita in the view of city officials, is two years away after the City Council approved the last $35 million of the $50 million project Tuesday.

Work will begin early next year on the floodway bypass connecting I-235 to 13th Street in west Wichita, the final two phases of a project targeting the longtime traffic snarl at I-235 and Zoo Boulevard.

The project should be complete around Thanksgiving 2014, giving drivers access to southbound I-235 from 13th Street west of the Big Ditch and letting drivers exit northbound I-235 to 13th Street west of the Big Ditch.

Council members said the rapid residential and retail growth in west Wichita have made moving cars in and out of the area more difficult.

“This floodway crossing is critical to much of west Wichita, and it’s being paid by the sales tax money we’ve been collecting for many years. It’s great proof we make all kinds of wonderful improvements with all of those dollars,” said council member Jeff Longwell.

Tuesday’s action 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.

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 expected 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 this morning, the council approved $7 million in industrial revenue bonds to finance the expansion of the Kansas Health Foundation at 309 E. Douglas.

The foundation is building the 36,000-square-foot, $8.6 million Kansas Leadership Center and Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center on the parking lot adjacent to the foundation headquarters at 309 E. Douglas.

It will house the new headquarters and training facility for the Kansas Leadership Center, a non-profit created by the foundation in 2005 to identify and develop 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 facility is part of the first completely redeveloped downtown block, including the Ambassador Hotel; the Slawson Companies retail and office renovation of the old Henry’s building; and the $7.5 million, city-financed parking garage and urban park just south of the leadership center.

Construction should be complete in about a year. The OPUS Group of Kansas City is the project’s design-build firm.

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