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Officials break ground on East Kellogg expansion

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the East Kellogg expansion project on Thursday. The city of Wichita, the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the Kansas Department of Transportation conducted the groundbreaking event to launch the start of the $300 million project.
Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the East Kellogg expansion project on Thursday. The city of Wichita, the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the Kansas Department of Transportation conducted the groundbreaking event to launch the start of the $300 million project. The Wichita Eagle

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Wildcat Construction president Roger McClellan.

About a year after being forced to hit the reset button, state and local officials turned ceremonial shovels full of dirt Thursday on improvements to East Kellogg.

Preliminary work on the $345 million project has already started with the moving of underground utilities. Motorists and businesses along Kellogg shouldn’t notice much disruption in routine for about another year as this work is done, officials said.

When completed in 2019 or 2020, the project will turn Kellogg into a six-lane freeway from the east Wichita exit on the Kansas Turnpike to K-96, flowing under Webb and over Greenwich and Zelta Drive. There will be new ramps for better access to the turnpike at K-96 and a modification of current access to the turnpike at Exit 50.

The project was redesigned after the initial bid for work at Kellogg and Webb came in higher than expected. That led to what officials describe as an unprecedented agreement between the city, state and Kansas Turnpike Authority to improve the East Kellogg corridor.

“Less than a year after we announced the redesign, we’re standing here and turning dirt,” Mike King, secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, said as about 100 officials and businesspeople involved with the project looked on. “We want to get in, get the work done and keep the people moving.”

Wichita City Council member Pete Meitzner, whose district includes Kellogg, pleaded for patience from the people who drive and do business along East Kellogg.

“It’s going to be a little dusty,” he said. “But cones and cranes are good for the city.”

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about the project.

Why is the work needed?

There are 66,000 reasons. That’s about how many vehicles traverse the intersection at Kellogg and Webb each day, about 15,000 more than the second busiest intersection.

Easing that congestion “is going to help economic development along this corridor all the way out to (K-)96,” Meitzner said.

Who’s building it?

Wichita-based Wildcat Construction is the main contractor on the first phase, from the east Wichita turnpike exit to just short of Greenwich. Of 10 major intersection projects on Kellogg since 1985, Wildcat has worked on seven.

“We ought to know what the heck we’re doing,” Wildcat president Roger McClellan said.

A lack of big projects here had forced the company to move crews to Colorado and Oklahoma, McClellan said. The Kellogg project means Wildcat employees will be “spending their hard-earned dollars here,” he said. The main two subcontractors, Dondlinger and Cornejo, are also based here.

Although McClellan is confident about Wildcat’s ability to get the job done, he does have one worry: The amount of traffic at Kellogg and Webb, combined with all the equipment and employees that Wildcat will bring there, “scares me a little bit,” he said.

“The main thing is to get people focused on their driving, and everything will be fine.”

What about the second phase?

The contract for work from Greenwich to K-96 will be let next year. Although that work is starting later, plans call for it to be done about the same time.

“Our intention is to dovetail in this (first phase of the) project and finish up at the same time,” said Rex Fleming, a design and construction engineer with the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Will the speed limit be lowered in the construction zone?

Yes, from 50 to 45 miles per hour, but probably not for about another year, officials said. When that happens, left turns will also be prohibited. The plan is to keep two lanes open going each way.

Should motorists look for alternative routes?

No, according to Wichita city engineer Gary Jansen. “As we do that, we put more pressure elsewhere,” he said, adding that city officials also don’t want to direct the public away from businesses located along Kellogg.

Where can you keep up with progress on the project?

A website called eastkelloggimprovements.com is up and running. It’s part of a “very aggressive communications plan” to keep the public informed, said Jeri Biehler, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Turnpike Authority.

Will this be the end of construction on East Kellogg?

Yes, for quite a while, officials said. They think the expansion and improvements will handle traffic needs for 50 years. By 2040, East Kellogg is expected to carry 120,000 vehicles a day.

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