Drivers inch through detour with turnpike closure

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The Kansas Turnpike Authority is working to get I-35 back open as quickly as possible after flood waters and the resulting damage kept the northbound lanes between South Haven and Wellington closed Thursday.

That closure forced thousands of motorists to find alternate routes, mostly on state highways in Sumner County.

The Turnpike Authority said Thursday it had crews out Wednesday already, ready and waiting to begin repair work as soon as the flood waters began to recede.  Thursday, those crews were hard at work re-building the shoulder along the northbound lanes that the flood waters had washed away.

As of 4:30 pm Thursday the state was still expecting to re-open those lanes sometime Thursday night, once they’d completed an inspection of the underside of the bridge for potential structural damage.

Despite the quick move to make repairs, the detours are causing drivers headaches, especially professional truckers, but some local businesses are making a lot of extra sales along the detour route.  

“A pain in the… it was a big pain ‘cause it was a long way around,” said James Davis, a trucker out of Wichita, sidelined at South Haven.

He was caught twice in the turnpike detours, Wednesday night as he was headed south to Denton, Texas, and again Thursday morning on his way back home.

The extra hours spent driving the long way around cost him time he doesn’t have.  Professional truckers can only spend so many hours behind the wheel before they legally have to put it in park.

“I can’t even move the truck right now. If I do, it’s a violation and I’m not into getting tickets,” said Davis.

“I honestly thought there wasn’t going to be any spots available here because a lot of truckers might not have any time,” said Casey Larsen, a truck driver out of Salina, parked behind the Wellington Casey’s General Store.  He’s headed home from Tampa, Florida.

Larsen knows Davis’ pain.  He’d hoped to get home early and pick up another run Thursday night. That’s not happening now.

“It’s part of the stuff you’ve just got to deal with, being on the road. You know?” Larsen shrugged.

The detour forcing drivers to move through towns they normally wouldn’t stop in is providing a business boon for local stores along the detour route, especially with traffic often moving at just 2 miles per hour.

“Bet Casey’s right here is having some good business, better be making some more pizzas,” said Larsen.

Despite their losses, both Larsen and Davis say they’d rather take this route, than risk crossing a potentially dangerous bridge on the turnpike.

“We’re just hoping, you know, with the flooding that these bridges aren’t structurally damaged,” said Larsen.

“I didn’t want to go through there after I heard about it,” said Davis about the flooding on the turnpike.  “But it’s the quickest route for me so I need that route open.”