Kansas City is prepared to gamble that $7 million in city and state funds will stave off the threatened closing of the Buck O’Neil Bridge long enough to get a new bridge funded, planned and built.
The city this month bid on competitive cost-shared funds from the Missouri Department of Transportation. If the city’s bid is selected, $5 million would allow the state to make the most urgent repairs on the 61-year-old bridge and $2 million would launch the lengthy environmental study required for a new bridge.
The city and the state would split the cost, at $3.5 million each.
“I think we’ve got a good shot” at winning the $7 million bid, said Brian Kidwell, assistant district engineer at MoDOT. “But,” he added, “there is some risk that we do something short-term and then we turn around and any number of issues come up. We don’t know how long we can remain in a holding pattern.”
With some 40,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily — plus its importance as a link for emergency transports between the Wheeler Airport and downtown — a closing has been an immensely unpopular proposal.
The risk with a short-term fix is that regional efforts to secure the roughly $200 million needed for a new bridge might come up short. Or, if funds are committed, the old bridge could need major repairs before the new bridge is completed.
If that happens, the state would end up needing to close the bridge anyway for repairs that it estimates would cost $51 million.
The state has already approved funding for those longer-term repairs.
“That’s really our plan B,” Kidwell said. “That’s the only (bridgework proposal) where we know what we’ve got.”
A panel of MoDOT’s executive cabinet is weighing the proposals for the state cost-share funds, and it is expected to announce the winners in mid- to late August.
Meanwhile, the city continues to work with regional partners, including several neighboring Northland cities, the Mid-America Regional Council, the state and federal officials, in pursuit of some combination of federal grants, state and local funding to support a new bridge.
The Kansas City Council had asked by resolution for the city manager’s office to have a funding proposal in hand by now, but more time is needed, said Wes Minder, Kansas City’s innovation engineer.
“There are no easy options,” Minder said. “We’re still working through it all. It’s been one heck of a ride.”
Kansas added another concern when its Legislature freed up funding for the state’s plan to repair the Lewis and Clark Viaduct project — the Interstate 70 bridge that leads many people west out of downtown.
That work would likely close westbound lanes that could otherwise serve as an alternative route for commuters heading north and west if the Buck O’Neil Bridge were to be closed.
“Conceivably, both could be closed at the same time,” said Ron Achelpohl, MARC’s director of transportation and environment.
Plans for a new Buck O’Neil Bridge are part of a broader process, coordinated by MARC, that is looking at remaking Kansas City’s North Loop, including I-70, U.S. 169 and connecting roadways.
The regional study, Beyond the Loop, is preparing for another round of public meetings in August to review a dozen concepts of what a new North Loop might look like.