As Kansas City scrambles to replace the aging Buck O'Neil Bridge downtown, city leaders are considering tolls or a new sales tax to pay for a new bridge.
The city has looked at different scenarios, but city leaders think a toll or other tax offers the city the best opportunity to raise the money it needs in the time needed.
“Between the tolling option and the taxing option, that will be our next step to really figure out which is the best option to pursue,” Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner said Tuesday.
It’s estimated it will cost $200 million to replace the bridge, which connects the Northland with downtown and beyond. While Missouri Department of Transportation has offered up to $100 million in matching funds, Kansas City needs to secure the rest.
Tolls on the bridge are not new. The steel-truss structure opened in 1956 as a toll bridge run by the city.
The toll generated nearly $40 million before it ended in 1991 — at which time the toll was 25 cents a car. The city transferred ownership of the bridge to MoDOT in 1992.
If a new toll is created, the city hasn’t decided how much it would be, but it has been looking at various amounts.
The city’s efforts to raise its portion to fund a new bridge got a boost Tuesday when the Mid-America Regional Council’s Total Transportation Policy Committee approved recommending that $40 million in federal funding be allocated for the project.
The allocation needs final approval by MARC’s board of directors, which meets Tuesday. MARC is responsible for directing federal funds through the Surface Transportation Program to various projects in the metro region.
Wagner said he was pleased with the outcome and the discussion surrounding the issue.
“It helps us continue on our journey to fill that gap that’s necessary to get a new structure built,” Wagner said.
Kansas City’s request for the federal funds, however, was initially controversial. Some cities said it would be unfair because it would soak up most, if not all, of the surface transportation program funds that the Missouri side of the metro would receive.
Kansas City had to agree not to apply for any other surface transportation program funds over two funding cycles, which cover federal fiscal years 2021 through 2024.
Another provision in the allocation of the funding calls for MARC to review the project in 2019 to make sure that reasonable progress has been made in getting the rest of the money and that the project was proceeding.
When it comes to a toll on the bridge, Wagner said the city has to determine if it can generate the funds the city needs.
About 44,000 vehicles a day use the bridge, which carries U.S. 169 over the Missouri River near the Wheeler Downtown Airport.
Earlier this year, a detailed examination of the bridge prompted MoDOT to press for a $51 million major overhaul starting in 2019.
Kansas City leaders argued against that plan because it would closed the bridge for two years, shifting traffic to nearby bridges and possibly creating safety and congestion problems.
Kansas City and MoDOT have tentatively agreed to a short-term $6 million repair project to buy time to find funding for a new bridge.
Because of rules that MoDOT has related to tolling, it might have to withdraw some of its funds, making the gap Kansas City has to fill even larger, Wagner said.
The city is looking at two options when it comes to new taxes — a tax for Kansas City alone or a transportation development district that would include Kansas City and some of the cities affected most by the bridge’s operations.
“Our hope is to come forward with more of a regional option as this is a regional asset as opposed to something that is just borne on Kansas City alone,” Wagner said.
The city is a few months away from finalizing either option, Wagner said.
The city intends to have its funding in place by next November.