The Kansas City Council laid down its ground rules Thursday as it resolved to make a full-court press for a new Buck O’Neil Bridge.
▪ Kansas City, with the most at stake, will take the lead wrestling together the host of government agencies and municipalities tangled in the dilemma of an aging bridge that council members agree must not be shut down two years for repairs as the state has recommended.
▪ The city will press the state — as the owners of the bridge — to adopt a bridge replacement plan instead, with the aid of whatever creative funding resources the regional partners can cobble together.
▪ Revenue from the city’s recently passed $800 million in general obligation bonds will not be one of those money sources.
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A resolution, passed through committee and approved by the full council Thursday, gives the city manager 60 days to work with all the stakeholders and return with a plan on how the bridge can be replaced.
“While this is our problem, the responsibility lies with the state of Missouri,” Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said. “We need to be lobbying the state of Missouri and the federal government. That’s the coalition we need to put together.”
A line of speakers endorsed the resolution for a new bridge during the hearing of the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
They came representing surrounding neighborhood associations, the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Council, the city councils of Riverside and North Kansas City, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and advocates for pedestrian and bicycle transportation.
There is no shortage of people, cities and agencies with stakes in this struggle. And although the bridge is not the city’s property, “as a reality,” City Councilman Dan Fowler said, “we do have to take the lead.”
The urgency of the work was prompted by a state-commissioned study released in March that recommended the state spend close to $50 million in extensive repairs beginning in 2019 that would close the bridge for 18 months to two years.
While replacing the bridge — at a cost of at least $150 million — would be the ideal solution, the study found, there is no adequate ready funding source, and the preliminary environmental testing and other design work likely could not get started in time.
The city is already developing proposals that could keep the old bridge open long enough while plans — and funding — for a new bridge are developed, said Wes Minder, Kansas City’s innovation engineer.
Some stopgap repairs, costing $5 million to $6 million, could reinforce the existing bridge for five to six years, he said.
Funding possibilities could combine federal grants and program sources, regional funding through the Mid-America Regional Council, some city resources — not general obligation bonds — and state resources.
Toll gates, which were part of the original bridge, could also be part of the solution, Minder said.
“That’s how we funded it the first time,” he said.