Wind turbine towers and blades have become a common sight in Pratt. With construction set to start soon on towers for the NextEra Energy Ninnescah Energy Wind Farm in the southeast portion of the county, more trucks will be making their way through Pratt.
Drivers will have to be aware of traffic conditions and until the construction is complete, patience will be the guideword for drivers.
For many days, towers and blades have made their way through Pratt. Many loads have come from the west on U.S. 54 and have turned south on Main Street to get on U.S. 281. These loads have been heading to another wind farm in Oklahoma.
Road construction on Highway 50 has caused these loads to come through Pratt. Pratt Police Chief Gary Myers said it would be about six weeks before those trucks could resume their regular route so
Pratt drivers will just have to be patient, Myers said.
When wind generator construction begins on the Ninnescah Energy farm, those turbines will also come through Pratt, but they may not have to make the turn from U.S. 54 to U.S. 281.
John Holderness, NextEra project manager, said the components for the wind turbines will come from Garden City. His plan, and he hopes the state will agree, is to have the loads come straight through Pratt and continue east to East 100th Avenue at Cairo, then south to the construction area.
Early in the project, NextEra was asked if they could keep traffic off Main Street and they have said they would try. However, they and Blattner Energy, the company that will transport the towers, blades and other components, have to abide by the state’s decision.
“The state will ultimately regulate the route,” Holderness said.
Zach Oswald, Kansas Department of Transportation public affairs manager for District Five, said the route drivers would submit their load information on K-Trips to KDOT for their approval. However, Oswald said KDOT had not received the transportation plans according to the latest information he had received.
It will take about 450 trucks to haul just the towers and blades. There will be more for the generators and for all the other elements necessary to construct the towers. There will be a lot of other moving parts to transport.
With all this extra traffic, KDOT has to determine the best route for all loads.
“It’s a challenge to manage the volume but we do the best with the information provided to us,” Oswald said.
NextEra has established a set of roads in the county that construction equipment will use. Those roads are marked and the trucks are required to use those marked roads. As the project progresses, the number of miles of construction roads have changed to meet changing needs.
Doug Freund, Pratt County road and bridge supervisor, receives updated maps showing the location of each tower and the streets and avenues used to gain access to each construction site.
The most recent addition is an extra 2.5 miles on SE 40th Street that now joins to U.S. 281 and connects with the rest of the project area, Freund said.
Components for the Ninnescah farm could begin rolling through the area in May.
In the meantime, wind energy loads continue to come through Pratt and turn south at First and Main that is the intersection of U.S. 281 and U.S. 54.
Load drivers have been very good about notifying the Pratt Police Department when they will be coming through town. If officers are available, they will assist with traffic control while the trucks make the turn, Myers said.
Sometimes the officers are busy and unable to assist or the drivers don’t call ahead but the hauling crews are very experienced and get the truck through intersection as quickly as possible.
Drivers need to pay attention when these units come through town. They should stay out of the way but if they do get “trapped” the crews will shut down the move and help the driver get clear safely, Myers said.
Pratt recently went through a Main Street repaving project and replaced the brick on Main Street with concrete. Because the trucks hauling the wind generator towers and blades have lots of wheels and axles, they have not caused a problem for the new pavement or the old brick, said Russ Rambat, Pratt public works director.