For the first time in 30 years, the Kellogg highway isn’t under construction.
“You’re welcome,” joked Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, the morning after the city tweeted that there are no current construction projects on the busy highway from its western edge at 119th Street to the K-96 interchange on the east side.
“It’s funny, the city put that out on social media last night and frankly, I’ve never seen more of an issue that brings people of different perspectives together more than the completion of Kellogg and how happy folks are, that we’re able to somewhat close a chapter that Wichita has had since I can remember,” he said. “So (we’re) looking forward to just moving on to other projects. Of course I’m sure that we’ll still have repairs, still have other stuff going on as far as maintenance, but for now there are no cones on Kellogg.”
To put the milestone in perspective, until now, no one under the age of 46 had ever driven on Kellogg when it wasn’t under construction.
But you might not want to get too used to it just yet.
Tom Hein of the Kansas Department of Transportation characterized it as a pause in an ongoing improvement process, rather than a mission accomplished.
“This is a respite, yes,” he said. “There’s always going to be a little bit of maintenance going on, but as far as big projects and what we’ve been experiencing the last three or four years with the east Kellogg stuff, we don’t have anything right now in the near future.”
But on the horizon. . .
“There are some future projects discussed, freeway upgrades on both the east and the west sides of the current freeway, but there’s no schedule for when these might be constructed,” Hein said. “So, no, we’re never finished with Kellogg.”
One piece of unfinished business is the interchange at Kellogg and I-235.
That project, to replace an outdated and dangerous cloverleaf, is being done in phases.
While it’s mostly finished and a lot more functional than it used to be, there are still some ramps to be replaced, although that work hasn’t been scheduled yet.
Short term, drivers can expect a few minor projects next spring and summer.
Three projects are planned to smooth out the bridge approaches at Maize Road and the Cowskin Creek in the west, and between Rock Road and the Kansas Turnpike entrance on the east.
At those locations, the road bed has settled more than the bridges they connect to, causing a noticeable bump, Hein said.
But it’s a lot better than it once was.
Decades ago, Kellogg was the city’s primary east-west traffic conduit, as a four-lane surface street with stoplights about every half-mile or so.
“I grew up on the west side and my mom used to say, ‘Oh, that’s all the way over on the east side,” Hein recalled. “She wouldn’t do it. It’s like now you can do that in 15 minutes, or 10.”
A short section of freeway was built from Topeka to Hillside in the 1970s, but the turning point for the project came in 1985, when Sedgwick County voters passed a 1-cent sales tax with the lion’s share earmarked for a large-scale Kellogg reconstruction.
The City Council battled for the next six years over whether to make Kellogg a fully elevated highway with on- and off-ramps, or a more modest expressway that would be wider and faster, but still have some at-grade crossings.
They ultimately reached consensus on a six-lane freeway. The original plans have either been lost or destroyed during the intervening decades.
The seemingly endless projects have been a source of frustration and humor for Wichita for many years.
Whipple recalled the time in 2005 when a mammoth tusk was found during excavation for the freeway. Paleontologists “were joking they were doing road work on Kellogg and they were using mammoths instead of trucks.”
Another old joke, first quoted in The Eagle in 1991, was that the sun would burn out in 5 billion years, so they’d have to string lights to finish Kellogg.
Of the seemingly endless construction, Hein said: “I know that’s the running joke and all that, but you can’t build something and then just walk away from it. And there’s always problems, so we’re always going to be fixing something on Kellogg. Remember how it used to be, folks. Come on. We’ve come a long way.”
City Council member-elect Mike Hoheisel, a lifelong resident, said drivers should simply savor the moment.
“I can remember Kellogg when it was stop-at-every-street,” he said. “So yeah, it is, it is really a time to stop and reflect on how far Wichita’s come . . . Take some time, take a breath and drive from one end of the city to the other without a hassle.”