Kansas City continues to shake the cushions, looking for any money it can find to pay at least part of the cost of a new bridge over the Missouri River into downtown.
It’s a worthwhile effort. The aging Buck O’Neil Bridge should be replaced. But local funding must not come at the full expense of neighboring communities, which face their own transportation challenges.
Kansas City may not see it that way. Recently, Mayor Sly James and City Manager Troy Schulte wrote the Mid-America Regional Council, seeking $40 million in federal transportation funds for the project.
“Given the significance of the structure to the region,” the letter says, “the equivalent of one round of funding or approximately $40 million should be given the strongest consideration.”
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Here’s the problem: There may be just $37.5 million available in 2021 and 2022 for various transportation projects on the Missouri side of the state line.
Naturally, smaller communities have howled. Grandview, Gladstone, Liberty, Independence, Riverside, Parkville and other cities have crumbling streets, too.
They want a chance to get some of that $37.5 million. The competition begins in earnest next year.
The smaller communities have a strong case to make. Kansas City can’t reasonably expect others to forgo available federal transportation funds simply because the O’Neil Bridge is in trouble. Competition for the federal funds should be fair and open to all.
To their credit, Mayor James and City Manager Schulte have said the money might be spread out over several years. That could ease the concerns of some smaller cities and counties, asl well as the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Those stakeholders would also be happy with merely fixing the O’Neil Bridge, which is far cheaper than replacing it. But that would also mean closing the bridge for up to two years, cutting off a vital conduit into and out of downtown.
That’s why a new bridge, for $200 million, is a better option.
MoDOT, which is strapped for cash, has said it might make $100 million available (although it isn’t sure how) if Kansas City comes up with the other half. That’s why the city is searching for available transportation cash.
There are several places to look beyond MARC, though.
In June, the federal government invited cities to apply for $1.5 billion in grant money for transportation projects. There’s also the TIGER grant program, which awards federal transportation money on a competitive basis.
The involvement of Rep. Sam Graves is important here as well. He’s a major player in transportation policy, and half the bridge is in his district. His constituents should insist on a major push for federal help.
After that, Kansas City might contribute some of the $800 million voters recently approved for infrastructure bonds. There may be capital improvement sales tax funds available. Ordinary belt-tightening could help.
Kansas City needs a new O’Neil Bridge, and time is running out. We’re confident the city and state can find the money to build it without picking the pockets of our neighbors, who have needs just as important as Kansas City’s.