Northland’s new Chouteau Parkway: Better for driving, and easier on the eyes

08/04/2014 8:03 PM

08/06/2014 11:36 AM

Six times a day: That’s how often Margie Lute, a home health nurse whose job takes her on the road a lot, drives on the Northland’s new Chouteau Parkway.

“It’s beautiful,” said Lute, who grew up in the nearby Glenhaven neighborhood and lives there still.

“Before, it looked like the dregs of Clay County. The strip joints, bars, used car lots, pawn shops — it looked really seedy.”

The four-lane parkway — replacing Chouteau Trafficway from Missouri 210 north to Interstate 35 — was intended to turn that look around and ease a persistent bottleneck. It officially opened July 12 after two years of construction.

The parkway includes a landscaped median, rain gardens, landscaping on both sides of the road and additional walking trails and sidewalks.

“Anytime you do this kind of project, people like the improved look,” said Mark Fisher, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s manager of the project in its final phases.

MoDOT and Kansas City Parks and Recreation teamed up on the project. MoDOT provided $20 million, and the city kicked in $16 million.

The Kansas City Public Works Department and Parks and Recreation shared design and construction, said Parks and Recreation Department director Mark McHenry. Parks and Recreation takes responsibility for maintaining the parkway, except for the pavement itself, which MoDOT handles.

Mowing and rain-garden maintenance will cost an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 a year, he said.

This kind of collaborative effort reflects a trend in response to dwindling state funding, Fisher said.

The collaboration also has elicited positive responses from others who live and work near the parkway. Teresa Manning works at Sally Beauty Supply in the Chouteau Crossings shopping center along the parkway. She kept her eye on the project’s progress.

“It looks good,” Manning said. “It looks clean — really clean.”

The two-lane trafficway and four-lane parkway combined — both of which are officially part of Missouri 269 — handle 10,000 to 11,000 vehicles daily, Fisher said.

About 10,000 vehicles a day head north over the Chouteau Bridge to cross the Missouri River from the Northeast area of Kansas City, MoDOT spokesman Markl Johnson said.

The original Chouteau Bridge was completed in 1887, Fisher said. A new bridge opened in December 2001.

Bobbi Baker, president of the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, said she hoped the parkway would prompt Northlanders to head a little farther south to Northeast Kansas City “to shop our international marketplaces.”

“In my personal life, that kind of investment would cause me to drive another mile and explore the possibilities on the other side,” Baker said.

Northeast is bounded by Columbus Park on the west, Interstate 435 on the east, the Missouri River on the north and Truman Road on the south. It has about 39,000 residents, she said.

“If you compare that to cities in the state of Missouri, that puts us equivalent to the 14th- to 16th-largest city in Missouri,” she said.

Just north of the river, Deb Hermann, CEO of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and a former Kansas City councilwoman, works with low- and moderate-income residents to help them with home repairs and buying abandoned properties for rehabilitation.

Starting in 2011, Hermann and former Councilman Bill Skaggs were instrumental in moving the Chouteau Parkway project forward. Their tasks included addressing demolition and land acquisition, and creating a plan for MoDOT’s approval, she said.

“One plan wanted to keep businesses.” Hermann said. “Another one wanted to get rid of them.”

In the end, she said, relocation was offered to all the property owners.

Skaggs said that Hermann was the leader in their efforts but that the two worked as a team on the city’s behalf.

“We bought the (right-of-way) property,” he said. “We were under a time crunch for the money, had to build it in a certain length of time ... It certainly is an improvement to the Northland.”

Chad Thompson, an assistant city engineer and the city’s manager of the parkway project, said the city and state “were able to redevelop that corridor and create a true parkway for that neighborhood, and we created a trail connection for all the neighborhoods in the area.”

Thompson said the city spent nearly $8 million to buy the business properties and relocate the businesses that chose to do so. McHenry said the green space alongside the parkway will continue to be free of commercial development.

Anna Hazen is glad of it. She has lived in the Winwood-Sunnybrook neighborhood for 10 years.

“The back of my house now faces the parkway, so I see it instead of being up against a used-car lot,” Hazen said.

“Traffic was so congested every single day. (The trafficway) had one lane in each direction. To accommodate traffic that had just gotten horrible, they expanded it. It’s most definitely worth the money.

“It’s gone from being an eyesore to a place where people walk their dogs and take their children to play. It’s completely changed the landscape, literally and figuratively.”

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