Prospects for a new traffic crossing over Interstate 235 and the Big Ditch took a big step forward this week with the endorsement of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
Local officials, supported by letters of support from former Gov. Mark Parkinson and current Gov. Sam Brownback, had petitioned the FHWA to allow a “break in access” over the interstate highway.
Tuesday’s announcement by the FHWA clears the way for the City to proceed with design and construction of the Big Ditch crossing.
The City anticipates that preparations for the project will move forward immediately. A preliminary design is in place and the next step will be engineering and construction plans.
Under current plans, the project would be built with local funds.
“This project is not only important to west Wichita, but to the entire community,” noted Vice-Mayor Jeff Longwell, whose City Council district spans much of west Wichita. “Once completed, the 13th Street Flyover will provide a new crossing point for thousands of commuters, as well as relieving congestion and bottlenecks at existing crossing points. It is a much needed solution to one of Wichita’s most difficult traffic problems.”
For the past several years, the City of Wichita has searched for ways to relieve traffic congestion on Zoo Blvd at I-235 and the Big Ditch. Numerous improvements widened Zoo Blvd under I-235 and widened the bridge over the Big Ditch in the late 1990s, but congestion continued to be a problem as traffic volume grew to more than 30,000 vehicles daily on Zoo Boulevard.
In 2007, the City began pursuing an option that would provide an exit ramp from northbound I-235 that would cross over the Big Ditch and connect to 13th Street on the west side.
Because the proposal involved a federal highway, the “break in access” required the approval of both the FHWA and the Kansas Department of Transportation. State approval had been approved prior to the FHWA request.
In its request for the access break, the City demonstrated that the project would improve safety and operations on I-235. The request included numerous studies and reports that supported this option.