By Kevin Collison
The public got their first look at a menu of ideas for reimagining the North Loop freeway in downtown Kansas City and the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge at an open house Tuesday.
The Mid-America Regional Council hosted a study process that’s being being called “Beyond the Loop.”
It’s considered an opportunity to make fresh, strategic decisions about aging transportation infrastructure built a half century ago when catering to cars was paramount no matter how it disrupted the downtown fabric.
“As the interstate system reaches its design life, lot of places around the country are looking at how it was designed and rethinking that barrier,” said Ron Achelpohl, MARC director of Transportation and Environment.
About 80 people reviewed options based on earlier feedback received at the first Beyond the Loop event held in February at the Downtown Library. The process was started when it was determined the 61-year-old O’Neil Bridge, formerly the U.S. 169 Broadway Bridge, needed major repairs.
Rather than repair the existing bridge bridge, the city decided to examine how it might be replaced to function better as a highway connection with Interstate 35 while adding pedestrian and bicycling opportunities.
At the same time, there has been strong interest by downtown advocates in reducing the width or possibly eliminating the North Loop freeway, a stretch of Interstate 70 that forms a barrier between the River Market and the Central Business District.
“The city wanted to take a look at the Loop as an opportunity to better connect the River Market with downtown,” Achelpohl said.
Options range from doing nothing with the freeway to shifting and narrowing it to open up space for development. There also is an option to eliminate it completely and replacing it with local streets. People attending the open house used stickers to indicate which option they favored.
In addition to the North Loop, the options suggested in the Beyond the Loop study include lowering Missouri Highway 9 to grade level, a move that would allow the street grid, including Independence Avenue, to be restored and connect the River Market with the adjoining Columbus Park neighborhood.
People who were unable to attend the open house at MARC this week can still offer their opinions on the Beyond the Loop website: beyondtheloopkc.com/survey.
The Beyond the Loop study process is necessary to meet the federal requirements for potential funding. By the end of the year, Achelpohl said several feasible alternatives should be identified.
“”Those will be start project development, if funding is available,” he said. “A huge ‘if.’ There is no funding lined up to implement any recommendations yet.”