Residents of Northeast Kansas City now have a quicker, more eye-pleasing route to destinations in Clay County.
But a local business leader is hopeful that the Northland’s new $36 million Chouteau Parkway will bring traffic the other way, too.
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.
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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,” Baker said.
Margie Lute, a home health nurse whose job takes her on the road a lot, drives on the new parkway a half dozen times every day.
“It’s beautiful,” said Lute, who grew up in the 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.
About 10,000 vehicles a day head north over the Chouteau Bridge to cross the Missouri River from Northeast Kansas City, MoDOT spokesman Markl Johnson said.
The original Chouteau Bridge was completed in 1887, Fisher said. A new bridge opened in December 2001.
For the new Chouteau Parkway, MoDOT and Kansas City Parks and Recreation teamed up on the project. MoDOT provided $20 million, and the city kicked in $16 million.
The city public works and parks deparments shared design and construction, said Parks and Recreation Director Mark McHenry.
Parks and Recreation takes responsibility for maintaining the parkway, except for the pavement, which MoDOT handles. Mowing and rain-garden maintenance will cost an estimated $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
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 along the parkway. She kept her eye on the project’s progress.
“It looks good,” Manning said. “It looks clean — really clean.”
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.
Chad Thompson, an assistant city engineer and the city’s manager of the parkway project, said the city spent nearly $8 million to buy the commercial properties and relocate those businesses that chose to do so.
McHenry said the green space alongside the parkway will continue to be free of commercial development, and Anna Hazen is glad of it.
“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.”