Here we go again: Summer road improvements underway

Posted on May 21, 2015 in Campus News and News

Jayhawk Boulevard Construction
For the third consecutive summer, a significant stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard has been closed as swarms of construction crews begin a frantic three-month sprint to replace and improve storm sewers, underground utilities, the road surface, sidewalks, crosswalks, landscaping and lighting.

Renovation of KU’s ridge-top artery, which began in 2013 at the Chi Omega fountain and in two summers of work reached the four-way stop at Sunflower Road, will now stretch from Sunflower Road to 14th Street. As expected, detour and closure signs now seem to outnumber spring flowers, and wherever it is you might want to go on campus, “good luck on trying to get there,” University architect Jim Modig, a’73, says with a resigned chuckle. “Déjà vu, right?”

Access to Lilac Lane, Danforth Chapel, two scholarship halls, The Outlook, Blake and Twente halls and the small parking lots behind Fraser Hall and Watson Library will be maintained with a temporary paved lane, which for now is accessible from the west; after construction moves from 14th Street to Watson Library, it will be reachable from the east.

The limestone information board that had been adjacent to the sidewalk between Dyche and Lippincott halls has been removed; once road and sidewalk construction is completed, it will be rebuilt and upgraded with an eye toward further high-tech enhancements. Modig does not anticipate any need to move the iconic Jimmy Green statue.

“It will stay right where it’s at,” Modig says. “We’re fortunate. Unless there’s a surprise in there, the sidewalk grades and everything will probably work out just fine. We’ll remove all the sidewalk around it and repour with new sidewalk.”
Jayhawk Boulevard construction

As with the western stretch of Jayhawk Boulevard, planting a variety of trees, bushes and other landscaping will be a big part of the project, including the stretch in front of Watson Library that hasn’t had trees for decades. Lighting will be upgraded to LED, sidewalks will be completely replaced and roadside parallel parking will no longer be permitted.

“When we pulled the parallel parking off of the street [from the fountain to Bailey Hall], people have commented about how much wider the street is,” Modig says. “Well, it’s the same width it has always been. And without the parked cars there, it’s so much safer because you don’t have people darting out from behind parked cars.”

Jayhawk Boulevard’s $11 million reconstruction is far from the only campus road construction now underway.

Crews this week removed the traffic control booth at Sunflower Road and Sunnyside Avenue; it will be replaced by card-activated gates that are being installed in the middle of Sunflower Road between Stauffer-Flint Hall and Watson Library. Modig anticipates that the Mississippi Street booth will also be removed and replaced with gates, but that project could be five or 10 years away.

On the west side of the central campus, 15th Street is closed for reconstruction between Green Hall and Naismith Drive.

“The road was in pretty rough shape before we started construction [on new engineering buildings], and the construction didn’t help it,” Modig says. “We had a bad road to start with, and it was past-due time to freshen it up.”

The Irving Hill Road bridge is also closed for the summer, for installation of wider sidewalks and safer handrails. Naismith Drive in front of Allen Field House will be closed for a week or two for installation of utilities to serve the new DeBruce Center.

While Jayhawk Boulevard’s surface, sewers and lighting are paid from public funds, the landscaping is privately financed by KU Endowment donors, and Modig notes that fundraising is not yet complete.

“Endowment has done a very good job of raising the funds, but we’re not quite there yet,” Modig says. “As people see stuff go in, they should know that we’re scrambling to try to figure out how we are going to fund the next package. We could use some more money.”

Despite the traffic headaches, Jayhawk Boulevard’s current reconstruction promises to significantly beautify campus from Watson Library to Dyche Hall, just as two previous construction summers did for the western stretch. It was work long overdue and, once completed, greatly appreciated by all who cherish a charming hilltop environment.

“I hate to overplay this,” Modig says, “but first impressions do play a part in a person’s decision. So when you drive up and things are tired and worn out and beat up, it doesn’t leave a very good impression with prospective students or faculty or staff. It doesn’t give you a good image. This gives us an opportunity to make a big swing to get things back up to par. It will leave you with a very positive image of the University.”

For those weary of weaving through mazes of road closures, a respite awaits: The fourth phase of Jayhawk Boulevard reconstruction, from 14th Street to the north entrance at 13th Street, will be delayed one year for state budget issues. That project is now scheduled for summer 2017.

—Chris Lazzarino

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