State Route 4 in Kansas
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State Route 4, also known as K-4 is a state route in the U.S. state of Kansas. The road forms a long east-west route through the west, center and northeast of the state, from near Scott City via the state capital Topeka to Nortonville. K-4 is the longest state route in Kansas at 591 kilometers. Around Topeka, K-4 is a stretch with Interstate 70 double-numbered.
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The K-9 at Meriden, not far from Topeka.
K-4 begins about 12 miles north of Scott City on US 83 and then begins the long road east. For the first 250 kilometers, K-4 runs parallel to the more important K-96, which runs 10 to 20 kilometers south. K-4 leads through sparsely populated rural areas with large farms, endless prairies and few elevation changes. Most of the villages on the route are very small. Frequently crossed north-south roads, including several US Highways. However, there are few noteworthy places on the route. K-4 passes just north of Great Bend.
Near Lindsborg, just south of the regional town of Salina, is a short double-numbered Interstate 135. After that, K-4 follows a rather secondary route, the road makes frequent bends through the grid and does not visit any places worth mentioning until Topeka. There are many shallow river valleys in the area that cause minor differences in height. K-4 here runs closer and closer to Interstate 70, eventually joining it just west of the capital, Topeka.
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K-4 runs through Topeka over Interstate 70 and is thus a freeway. The highway through Topeka is not very busy and has 2×2 lanes. I-70 goes right through the center of town. On the east side of Topeka, at the junction with the Kansas Turnpike, K-4 turns north and takes the Oakland Expressway, a super two with grade separated intersections. It also crosses the Kansas River. After that is a very short double numbering with US 24.
From Topeka, K-4 runs northeast and is a fairly well-developed single-lane road. The road has not been developed to a high standard, but it does lead over an optimal alignment over the rolling countryside. The road runs not far from Perry Lake, one of the larger reservoirs in Kansas. Near the village of Nortonville, K-4 becomes US 59, which continues to Atchison.
K-4 always went more or less along the current route, with some minor adjustments. The original route didn’t end in Nortonville, but a little further east in Atchison. Also, west of Topeka, the route was partially different, from Herington via Council Grove to Eskridge, on what are now US 56 and unnumbered county roads. The current route between Herington and Eskridge was part of K-10, except between Altavista and west of Eskridge, where the road did not yet exist.
By the early 1930s, only short sections of K-4 were paved, mostly west and north of Topeka, between Nortonville and Atchinson, and a small stretch between Hope and Herington. Elsewhere, only small sections were gravel roads, the vast majority of which were dirt roads at the time, especially in western Kansas.
As early as the mid-1930s, the easternmost section of K-4 between Nortonville and Atchison was dropped and renumbered US 59. The section between Herington and Council Grove was numbered US 50N. The situation of the road surface had hardly improved by 1940 compared to 10 years earlier. Between Topeka and Nortonville, K-4 was on the grid and was a gravel road. Part coincided with US 75 north of Topeka. In the first half of the 1940s work began on asphalting parts of K-4, in 1945 the first parts in western Kansas were asphalted, between McCracken and La Crosse, between US 281 and Bushton and the then route between Topeka and Nortonville. Elsewhere, the route had at least been upgraded to gravel road.
In the second half of the 1940s, asphalting was little continued, only around 1950 longer stretches of asphalt were resurfaced, between La Crosse and US 281, creating a fairly long stretch of tarmac K-4 in western Kansas, and a stretch west of US 81 at Lindsborg. Around 1952-1953 a fairly long stretch of the westernmost part was asphalted, between US 83 near Scott City to US 283 at Ransom. Also, the K-4 between US 81 and Herington was then asphalted, but the route still went through Council Grove.
In the mid-1950s almost all remaining parts of K-4 were asphalted, in addition the missing link between Altavista and Eskridge was also built, although this was initially still numbered K-10, but was renumbered K-4 in 1957, eliminating the last missing paved section of K-4 due to the new route. In 1962-1963, the route between Meriden and Valley Falls was constructed diagonally to cut off the ‘stairway’ route through the grid. However, it wasn’t until 1978 before the diagonal section also opened between Valley Falls and Nortonville.
In the Topeka region, the route has been changed several times. K-4 originally crossed the Kansas River via the 1898 Melan Arch Bridge. In 1955, the Westgate Bridge on the west side of Topeka opened to traffic, over which K-4 was also routed. The road then barely passed through Topeka, but via the west and north sides of the city on US 24. In 1997 the Oakland Expressway opened to traffic east of Topeka. This is a grade separated super two, after which K-4 was routed over this bridge, and also over I-70 through the center of Topeka.
The western portion of K-4 is lightly driven, mostly between 600 and 1,000 vehicles per day between Scott City and Topeka, with slightly higher intensities around larger towns. The quietest part is between Altavista and Eskridge with less than 200 vehicles per day. In the Topeka region, the road is obviously busier. Just before I-70, intensities rise to 6,000 vehicles per day on the outskirts of Topeka. The Oakland Expressway on the east side of Topeka handles approximately 9,000 vehicles per day and the route further to Nortonville handles 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles per day.