Government & Politics

Kansas City secures $25 million in federal funds for Buck O’Neil Bridge

The federal government is kicking in a $25 million transportation grant to help replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge the city has been working to upgrade.

Members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation celebrated the grant — called a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD grant — from the U.S. Department of Transportation in press releases Thursday afternoon.

“Replacing the decades-old Buck O’Neil Bridge is great news for the region and the thousands of people who travel over the Missouri River every day,” U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, said in a release.

The Buck O’Neil, or Broadway, Bridge connects downtown to Clay County over the Missouri River, carrying some 44,000 vehicles per day. Replacing the 62-year-old bridge has been a priority for the city.

Missouri’s members of Congress had been pushing the department to fund the project.

“And this money will kick start the much-needed replacement of this aging bridge,” said U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo, who will be the top-ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this Congress.

Blunt, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped secure $1.5 billion in BUILD grants, called TIGER grants under President Barack Obama’s administration, in the federal budget. He said the new bridge will reduce congestion and improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“I’ve been proud to advocate for funding for this much-needed infrastructure project, which will pave the way for stronger economic growth in the region,” Blunt said.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, the outgoing Democrat, called the improvements “essential for commerce, economic development and ease of traffic flow for the city.”

The total bill to replace the bridge is at least $200 million and elected officials at the city and state level have been looking for a way to come up with sufficient funds. The $25 million brings the city and state closer to starting on the budget.

Kansas City and the state of Missouri are expected to split the cost of the bridge, and it’s not clear how the grant might be divided among their budgets.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, a mayoral candidate representing the city’s 1st District at-large, said the grant would ease the funding burden on Kansas City, which he said was expected to kick in a total of $100 million. Another $25 million would free up other city funds to be used elsewhere or give the city flexibility if the price tag for the bridge ends up exceeding $200 million.

The city, Wagner said, had planned to use $40 million in federal funds allocated through the Mid-America Regional Council and had the authority to spend up to $60 million from the 1-cent sales tax voters renewed earlier this year.

“I think it’s a big deal for everybody in this region because, as we showed, the Buck O’Neil Bridge takes about 45,000 cars a day, so to have a better asset for them to use is great for those 45,000 car drivers — because they are going to all points in this region,” Wagner said. “So that to me is a win for this region as well as the city.”

Brian Kidwell, district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Kansas City district, said the state had set aside $50 million to rehabilitate the bridge and would benefit from the extra $25 million. That would leave the state still another $25 million short of funding its $100 million portion.

“The closer we get to closing this gap the easier that I think it will be to come up with the remaining funds,” Kidwell said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt told the Star he and Graves had been advocating the federal government fill the gap, arguing the “voters have agreed to do their part” by renewing the 1-cent sales tax for capital improvements.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Democrat representing Kansas City, said the grant was “great news for a bridge that is in desperate need of replacement.”

“This will ease the concern of drivers who use the bridge daily and open doors for new economic opportunities in my district,” said Congressman Cleaver.

The city is also working with Burns & McDonnell to draft an environmental study, which is required before replacing the bridge. It’s expected to wrap up late next year. Kidwell said that environmental study would better inform the price of the bridge.

Outgoing Congressman Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., also announced the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City Kan. got a $13.8 million grant to replace the interchange at Interstate 70 and the Turner Diagonal.

Yoder said in a release the new interchange would open the door for more economic development.

“This is a massive win for KCK, and will continue to build on the already amazing economic development we have seen over the last decade,” Yoder said.

Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.