Government & Politics

Kansas City’s Cliff Drive is reopening with major improvements

Cliff Drive’s West Gate will officially reopen to eastbound vehicle traffic Saturday.
Cliff Drive’s West Gate will officially reopen to eastbound vehicle traffic Saturday.

After nearly a year of work, Kansas City is celebrating the completion of major restoration to some of the historic stone overlooks, staircases and other features along scenic Cliff Drive.

The city officially reopens the drive to one-way, eastbound vehicle traffic at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the West Gate, located on Cliff Drive at the Paseo and Lexington Avenue. The drive will be open to cars all day Saturday but then resumes car-free weekends, in which the drive becomes a superb forested route for pedestrians, dog walkers, hikers and bicyclists.

The ceremony marks completion of improvements that were paid for with a $642,000 federal scenic byways grant and $220,000 in local matching funds from the city’s capital improvements sales tax. The improvements were designed by Dubois Consultants, and the general contractor was National Street Scape of Blue Springs.

“It gives people a safe access to the overlooks, and it’s improving all the pedestrian connections to Kessler Park,” said Scott Overbay, who managed the project for the Kansas City parks department.

Cliff Drive is a winding, 3-mile roadway in northeast Kansas City that provides beautiful overlooks to downtown and other vistas, plus access to hiking and biking trails in Kessler Park. The drive runs from the West Gate at the Paseo and Lexington Avenue to the East Gate at Gladstone Boulevard and Cliff Drive. It gives people the feel of being in a lush forest, even though they’re right in the middle of an urban neighborhood.

A new concrete path at the Paseo and Highland Avenue leads to an overlook and great view of the downtown airport.

Several stone overlook walls that were rubble have been newly built or restored. A crumbling staircase due west of the Kansas City Museum has been rebuilt, as was a large staircase that leads to Cliff Drive behind the historic Kessler Park Colonnade on Gladstone Boulevard.

A new staircase was built at Prospect Point, west of the old reservoir in Kessler Park, giving a good view of the Kit Bond Bridge.

Some of the new wall work, Overbay said, was intended to keep cars from the road’s edge and help reduce illegal dumping.

While work was underway, the road was closed to vehicle traffic. Overbay said neighborhood volunteers helped clear trash and debris, so the roadway for the moment appears pristine.

The city had hoped to finish the work earlier this year, but heavy rains in April through June set back construction and the stone suppliers, Overbay explained.

After months of meetings last year involving park staff, neighborhood leaders, recreation organizations and members of the Cliff Drive Corridor Management Committee, the city decided to establish a single eastbound lane of traffic, with the westbound lane dedicated to walkers and bicyclists. A flexible bollard system and signage separates those lanes.

The drive closes at dusk each weekday evening and reopens in the morning. Car-free weekends mean the gates close to traffic each Friday evening and reopen Monday mornings.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley