Should KC get rid of I-70 on north side of the downtown loop? Your thoughts are wanted

See what's being considered for KC’s downtown loop

Planners looking into a major reinvention of the north side of Kansas City’s downtown loop are asking people in an online survey to rank their thoughts about several alternatives. Here’s a look at those options.
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Planners looking into a major reinvention of the north side of Kansas City’s downtown loop are asking people in an online survey to rank their thoughts about several alternatives. Here’s a look at those options.

As Kansas City looks to its future, your thoughts are wanted on what changes should be made to the Buck O’Neil Bridge and Interstate 70 on the north side of the downtown loop.

Your answers will help determine what is done with the six-lane highway that separates Kansas City’s Central Business District from the River Market and Columbus Park neighborhoods.

Should the area be left alone except for some safety enhancements? How about getting rid of some of the more than a dozen on and off ramps along I-70? Or should I-70 just be removed completely?

Those are just some of the ideas being floated in an online survey that asks you to rank each idea. Planners are seeking reactions from people across the entire Kansas City area. So if you work, play or travel through downtown Kansas City and the River Market area, your opinions are wanted.

The Beyond the Loop survey is part of a planning process that is helping define “what’s the future that we want and what infrastructure do we need to get there,” said Danny Rotert, a strategic consultant at Burns & McDonnell.

The survey basically asks what should be done to meet the area’s needs for the next 50 years. The answers will help the project team decide the best ways to plan future roadway investments.

The survey contains four main alternatives being studied for the north loop:

▪  The No Build alternative leaves the north loop the same as it is today with no modifications.

▪  The Safety Adjustments alternative would consolidate ramps, make minor safety changes, and lower Missouri 9.

▪  The Compressed Footprint alternatives have four options that would reduce I-70 to two lanes and shift it to the north, south or middle.

▪  Full Removal alternative would remove I-70 and re-designate Interstate 670 as the new I-70. Independence Avenue and Sixth Street would become the primary east/west connection through the north side of downtown.

One common theme among all the options is that instead of adding capacity by adding lanes, they decrease the overall footprint of I-70 or eliminate it. One reason is that the promise of new technologies like self-driving vehicles will safely allow more cars in smaller spaces because they can talk to each other.

The survey also asks for opinions on the position of ramps in the north loop area, whether Missouri 9 should be lowered and if so what its alignment should be and whether to rehab or replace the Buck O’Neil Bridge, including a preferred alignment if it’s replaced.

The survey can be found online at http://www.beyondtheloopkc.com/survey. The Beyond the Loop project team will be collecting reaction through mid-December.

Since August, more than 1,000 people have taken the survey. But more opinions are being sought.

The results will be used to develop and evaluate packages of infrastructure investment and narrow them down to a handful of feasible alternatives that can be studied in more detail, said Ron Achelpohl, director of transportation and environment for the Mid-America Regional Council.

MARC is leading the work at the request of Kansas City and Missouri Department of Transportation. Other project team members include the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. MARC has hired Burns & McDonnell to help with the study.

The north side of the loop is being studied now because the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, formerly known as the Broadway Bridge, is approaching the end of its useful life. The project team wanted to have a plan in place for what might replace it or information to make a good decision about reconstructing it as it is.

Kansas City also is particularly interested in looking at the north loop corridor because of how downtown and the River Market have been developing and changing.

After the study had started, the project team learned that the “condition of the bridge itself was probably more dire than we expected,” Achelpohl said.

MoDOT discovered during a detailed examination that the aging bridge needed serious attention and it put forward a $51 million plan to do a major overall of the structure. It would have required the bridge to be closed for two years.

Kansas City, however, wants an entirely new bridge and it has entered into an $6 million cost-sharing agreement with MoDOT to a short-term repair project to buy time to find funding for a replacement. The bridge is expected to cost $200 million to replace.

A public meeting about traffic control during the bridge’s rehab will be held Thursday in the board room at MARC, 600 Broadway.

As the city scrambles to find ways to fund its portion of the bridge, city leaders are considering tolls or a new sales tax to help fund its portion.

The last time the north side of the downtown loop would have been studied was when the Bond Bridge was built to replace the Paseo Bridge.

Since the bridge opened in 2010, downtown Kansas City has changed significantly — more people are living downtown, the River Market has changed, a streetcar line has been added and development and commuter patterns have evolved.

Just under half the traffic that use the Buck O’Neil Bridge is headed elsewhere besides downtown, Achelpohl said.

That has the project team not only asking questions about the bridge and its current design but also about the north loop corridor.

“If we’re going to have an interstate that runs through this part of the downtown area, are there ways that we can make it less of a barrier between the River Market and the Central Business District?” he said. “We’re also asking, do we need an interstate that runs through this part of the downtown area?”

Kansas City also is expected to run out of development land in the downtown and River Market areas in about 10 years. If the city wants to continue to grow downtown, it may need to find more space by 2028 — some of which could come from the right-of-way used for I-70.

The overall goal of the survey is to broaden the conversation of what could be done and get people to dream about what the north side of the loop could look like. It’s important for the planners to hear the reaction from people who will use it and eventually pay for it.

It’s their roads. It’s their highways. It’s their bridge. In many cases, it’s their neighborhoods and routes to work, Rotert said.

“Infrastructure is not just a thing, it’s about people,” he said.

Robert A. Cronkleton: 816-234-4261, @cronkb