No way. The state’s recent warning that the Buck O’Neil Bridge may be closed and repaired as is cannot come to pass, city staffers said this week.
Bigger plans for a new bridge and the remaking of the whole Interstate 70 North Loop are not dying, they say.
“We are talking with our congressional delegation to come up with a funding package,” Kansas City’s innovation engineer, Wes Minder, told Mayor Sly James and City Council members in a work session in City Manager Troy Schulte’s office.
And, he added, “we want you to engage our congressional delegation.”
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That’s because the city’s determined stance still relies on someone wrestling up significant federal dollars, probably from competitive grants, that have yet to be identified.
Earlier in March, the Missouri Department of Transportation, reviewing the draft of a consultant’s study of the bridge, warned that the 61-year-old former Broadway Bridge may not wait for the several-year process of planning, approving and building a new bridge — even if it were funded.
MoDOT said it would be taking steps to secure some $40 million in state funds to simply repair what’s there, likely beginning in 2019, and likely requiring 18 months to two years of closure.
MoDOT isn’t opposed to the new bridge and new North Loop idea. The department would love to see it happen, assistant district engineer Brian Kidwell said.
“But it puts us in a tough position as owners of the bridge to pursue a new bridge when we have no control on the funding,” he said. “We can’t bet public safety on potential federal funding.”
The city can’t abide so many things it deems unsatisfactory with just closing and repairing the old bridge.
“It does not make bicycle-pedestrian improvements,” Minder said. “It does not improve traffic flow.”
A new bridge project would likely cost $200 million or more and would need to be built next to the current bridge to avoid a long closure. The construction of the Kit Bond Bridge in place of the old Paseo Bridge in 2007 cost $245 million.
“If we identify funding,” Minder told the council, “and if there is a new alignment for the bridge and we could do it side by side…”
This is the tall order that Mayor James’ chief of staff, Joni Wickham, said the city has been pitching to congressional staff members.
They need to show traction soon because even if plans could take shape in early 2018, the required planning procedures and environmental impact studies mean a new bridge likely would not be able to open before 2022.
None of the congressional offices have reported any traction toward funding the project. One staffer, without attribution, said her Congress member’s office was in “listening mode” but eager to support the community’s decision.
The Mid-America Regional Council, which is coordinating a regional study surrounding the future of the bridge, is considering speeding the study’s approach, director of transportation Ron Achelpohl said.
The study intends to explore options not only for the north-south path of the bridge, but the east-west flow of the Interstate 70 North Loop. The urgency of the bridge situation may necessitate focusing on the bridge, with the loop to follow.
Delaying repairs would mean more frequent monitoring by MoDOT, Kidwell said, and increasing anxiety that the state might end up needing an emergency closure of the bridge.
“You can never see exactly what’s going on in that bridge,” Kidwell said. “It’s like bending the paper clip. You don’t know how many bends you’ve got left.”