Local planners have taken another important step to untangle the mess of roadways and ramps that make up the North Loop downtown.
The study looks at where a new Buck O’Neil Bridge might go. It re-examines ways to get into and out of the Charles Wheeler Downtown Airport and the River Market. It discusses ways to make the loop more pedestrian-friendly and economically robust.
New links to Independence Avenue are on the table. So are changes to Missouri Route 9, which crosses the Heart of America Bridge.
It’s far too early to judge the proposal. A price tag isn’t available, for one thing, and nothing is set in concrete.
At the same time, it’s now clear the entire Kansas City region, including Kansas, must become seriously engaged in discussions about the loop and all transportation alternatives downtown.
One of the options in the report, for example, is to close I-70 north of downtown. The idea of turning that dangerous ribbon of road into walkable green space or living space has enormous appeal for urbanites long frustrated with downtown’s isolation from the river.
Yet closing the North Loop would have enormous implications for the entire metro area. It would dramatically increase traffic on the South Loop, for example. It might clog other interchanges downtown.
And it could tie up traffic into the West Bottoms and the Fairfax District of Kansas City, Kan. That’s why the Unified Government asked the study committee to simply drop the idea of closing I-70 along the North Loop.
The request was denied, although “the concerns of the Unified Government and the Kansas Department of Transportation will need to be understood,” the study says.
Well, yes. Yes they will.
That’s true in a practical sense — closing an interstate highway is expensive and difficult, and all stakeholders play a role. But it’s true in a larger moral sense, too. Changes to the North Loop will affect Northlanders, commuters from eastern Jackson County and all of Johnson County, as well as folks in Kansas City, Kan.
They must have a say in this discussion, as should those directly affected downtown.
To its credit, the Beyond the Loop committee is listening to those voices. There’s plenty of time: Any comprehensive improvements to the North Loop corridor are years — and hundreds of millions of dollars — away.
And there are options that don’t include closing the North Loop. It might be repositioned, allowing for more development that could link the River Market with the central business district while protecting Kansas City, Kan.
But an effort to remake the city’s urban highway system is unmistakably under way. Anyone who travels into Kansas City or out of it must start paying attention to that discussion, or start figuring out other ways to get downtown.