Editorials

There are four options for a new Buck O’Neil Bridge in KC. Two are terrible

Last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a “commonsense” truce in the incentives border war with Kansas.

Parson couldn’t say how much money the truce would save his state, but he did have an idea for where any new cash should go: to a new Buck O’Neil Bridge.

That was good to hear.

Each day, tens of thousands of commuters cross the existing bridge, then battle a confusing tangle of ramps and roadways in the northwest corner of downtown. It’s a mess.

Planning for a new bridge is well underway. Kansas City has cobbled together roughly $100 million, and Washington has come up with $25 million. Missouri, on the other hand, is still working on its share, between $75 million and $100 million.

Parson’s new bond issue should free up cash, and the border war truce could add to the kitty. So let’s hold the governor to his commitment: The state’s full share of the bridge replacement should be identified and allocated by next spring, with a goal of starting construction by the end of next year.

In the meantime, Kansas Citians can weigh in online on four alternatives for a new bridge.

The first option is doing nothing. No thanks. Despite recent repairs, the existing bridge has lived past its useful life. It’s dangerous and expensive to maintain.

The other options are new structures. The so-called “adjacent” replacement bridge is the cheapest at about $200 million; it would basically replicate the on-and-off footprint of the current bridge.

The “central” option moves the new bridge several hundred feet west at a cost of up to $230 million. The “west” option locates the bridge still farther toward Kansas at an estimated cost of $250 million.

Keeping costs down is important. But if the state and city want a bridge that will last until the 22nd century — and they do — they must choose the simplest, most dynamic plan they can.

That’s why the adjacent bridge is a nonstarter. Any replacement bridge must create room for engineers to redesign the disastrous spaghetti works at the south end of the current bridge. The north end of the bridge, which passes Wheeler airport, needs help, too.

The central and west options provide some space for improved traffic patterns. Both deserve consideration.

All of this will cost additional money. Remaking the Buck O’Neil Bridge intersection should not come at the expense of other worthwhile projects in Kansas City or other cities in the region. The bridge is a state responsibility, and Missouri should pay first, and most.

And Kansas City must keep an eye on the impact the bridge project has on other cities. Closing I-70, for example, would hurt Kansas City, Kansas, which depends in part on freight traffic using the highway.

But the mess must be fixed.

Soon, there may be more Kansas Citians living north of the Buck O’Neil Bridge than south of it. The bridge choke point is a major daily hassle for those commuters.

Gov. Parson’s promise of funding finally provides hope that irritant may be soon washed away. Kansas City should make sure he delivers.

  Comments