Driving in downtown KC has been a snarl for months and it just got worse

09/20/2013 7:59 AM

09/20/2013 7:59 AM

Been downtown this week? It’s even more crammed and detour crazy.

“Hey, Jess, how do you get home?” Kyle Witherspoon asked his co-worker behind the bar at Johnny’s Tavern on Thursday.

Grand Boulevard south, said Jessica Brady. Except when she works her night shift.

“At 2 in the morning, I-35 is fine,” she said.

At rush hour, forget it.

Traffic has been jammed on I-35 since April, when construction began narrowing it to two lanes in each direction. Then some ramps closed too.

Now the Main Street bridge over I-670 is closed. And Truman Road is blocked off. And summer vacationers are back to work.

Result? The business loop is one big, orange whirligig of congestion, forcing commuters to rework their routines and take new routes.

At least it’s good for Johnny’s business, Witherspoon said Thursday.

“We have customers who get off at 5 o’clock and just hang out here until 6:30,” he said. “Enjoying appetizers, watching sports,” and waiting for the traffic to lighten.

Work on I-35 is expected to continue another three months. The Main Street bridge replacement, a Kansas City project, is expected to be completed by Nov. 4, maybe earlier.

Until then, good luck getting around.

But the city thinks you’re figuring it out.

“There are plenty of ways to get into and out of downtown,” said Kansas City public works spokesman Sean Demory. “Many roads lead to wherever.”

He said the city hasn’t heard many complaints. “People know this is the price of progress,” Demory said.

A quick survey of the Thursday lunch crowd at the Power and Light District found commuters making all sorts of adjustments to bypass I-35.

U.S. 71 south to I-435 east. I-70 west to I-635 south. Southwest Boulevard to Genessee and across the railroad tracks, so long as there’s not a train.

To get from Independence to his software engineering job on the Country Club Plaza, “I bypass downtown altogether,” said Beshoy Girsis. But that sometimes adds a half-hour to his normal 45-minute commute.

“A co-worker of mine got in a wreck trying I-35,” he said. “In rush hour, that’s just inch by inch.”

A few suggested Beardsley Road, but they didn’t want that in the newspaper for fear everyone would use it. (Sorry.)

In taking these various routes, or delaying their commutes until traffic eases, some might patronize establishments they’ve never stopped at before, said Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development for the Downtown Council.

“A little congestion is a good thing” for some businesses, he said. “When we hear a complaint about a traffic jam, we’re high fiving each other.”

And Jacob Schwartz, part of the Thursday’s lunch crowd, said he finds some satisfaction, too.

He rides a bike to his downtown job, taking the 12th Street bridge over backed-up I-35.

“I look down at all those cars,” Schwartz said, “and I think, ‘Suckers.’ ”

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