The Little Blue Parkway is a reality, finally.
Independence officials gathered last week to dedicate the new seven-mile leg of the parkway from U.S. 24 south to East 39th Street, which had been under construction for several years.
The full parkway now runs from U.S. 24 south, past Interstate 70 and then to U.S. 40.
If completion of the $55 million extension seemed a long time in coming, Jack Gant could take the long view.
Gant, a retired Missouri judge and former state senator, spoke at dedication ceremonies last week. He first began to consider the possibility of such a road not long after 1966, when voters sent him to the Senate.
“Harvey Jones, the county highway engineer at one time, was in my office, and we were trying to think what we could do for eastern Jackson County,” Gant said recently.
Much of that acreage remained unincorporated.
“The land along the Little Blue River was a vast area of undeveloped land that had not been annexed by Independence,” Gant said.
“We decided that if we would ever get that development, that would be the future of Independence.”
Such development first required sewer service. The Little Blue Valley Sewer District, serving Cass and eastern Jackson counties, was incorporated in 1968 to comply with state and federal water quality regulations.
Gant introduced legislation that established an interceptor plant for the district. It was completed in 1977.
Gant also served as chairman of the Senate committee on roads and highways, and he came to know former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond when he was Missouri governor. It was Bond, as U.S. senator, who in 2005 helped steer a $31.6 million highway earmark to the Little Blue Parkway project.
The completed parkway, Gant said, represents new access to the Little Blue Valley, still largely undeveloped and which planners believe now could attract significant amounts of new commercial and residential investment.
Although such development has been discussed for years, John Powell, Independence public works director, believes it will happen.
”You can see what happened near Interstate 70 in the late 1990s,” he said.
The interchange for the Little Blue Parkway at Interstate 70 was dedicated in the late 1990s. While the vast amount of commercial development, including Centerpoint Medical Center now visible along East 39th Street, did not occur strictly because of that interchange, Powell said, it’s hard to imagine without it.
The completed parkway also is the first leg of the larger Lewis and Clark Expressway.
That project, also long imagined by planners, would run north from Interstate 70 through Independence and unincorporated Jackson County before turning west and running through Sugar Creek and ending at Front Street and Interstate 435 in Kansas City.
Earlier this year, initial work began on the second, Sugar Creek leg. A third leg, through unincorporated Jackson County north of Independence, still would require environmental studies and approvals, Powell said.
“But that certainly is still the goal,” Powell said.
“It would bring in thousands of new jobs,” he said.