‘Beyond the Loop’ Seeks to Relieve Downtown Freeway Damage

Rendering of how a reconnected Independence Avenue could look in River Market. (Image from Beyond the Loop)

By Kevin Collison

Beyond the Loop, a downtown planning strategy for the future of the North Loop freeway, Buck O’Neil Bridge and Independence Avenue, is holding two public meetings this month to refine potential alternatives.

City and state officials have come up with a $200 million, long-term plan to build a new O’Neil (formerly Broadway) bridge that would directly connect 169 Highway and Interstate 35, and provide an exit to downtown.

Moving forward with that replacement project is contingent on city voters renewing the 1 percent capital improvement tax in April.

The bridge project is listed as a short- and medium-term goal in a recent strategic infrastructure vision report prepared by the Downtown Council infrastructure and open spaces committee.

According to the committee, a new O’Neil bridge would better connect through traffic to I-35, be a more attractive gateway to downtown, resolve awkward traffic flow issues on Fifth and Sixth streets and improve access to the River Market and West Bottoms.

In the meantime, repairs to the O’Neil bridge are expected to begin in late spring. It will require the closing of southbound lanes, but northbound traffic will continue. The work is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The future of the North Loop and Independence Avenue is less clear.

The Beyond the Loop process has studied potentially narrowing of the North Loop freeway corridor, which separates the River Market from downtown, and possibly downgrading it to a boulevard.

Beyond the Loop also has considered a plan to lower the Missouri 9 highway embankment and reconnecting Independence Avenue, a move that would reunite the River Market with the Columbus Park neighborhood.

The estimated cost of reconnecting the avenue is $54 million.

Last September, a national panel of Urban Land Institute experts recommended the Independence Avenue project be a priority.

As for the North Loop concepts, the ULI panel said those major investments would not be cost effective until at least 2028. You can read the entire ULI North Loop report here.

The Downtown Council infrastructure committee however, considers improvements to the North Loop between the O’Neil and Kit Bond bridges to be a short- and long-term goal.

“Should this be a parkway, covered highway, traffic redirected to I-670 (South Loop) and closed for development, or just efficiency improvements by redesigning the access points?” asked the committee.

In a separate downtown freeway study sponsored by the Downtown Council, engineers at HNTB have determined a four-block section of the South Loop could be decked with a park for an estimated $139 million.

The 1960s era freeway separates downtown from the Crossroads Arts District.

The open houses for the Beyond the Loop process will be March 21 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Mid-America Regional Council offices at 600 Broadway, and March 22 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at iWerx, 1520 Clay St., North Kansas City. You can RSVP here.

Review displays, assessments of the refined alternatives and results of future traffic models will be at either open house. For more information contact Martin Rivarola at 816-474-4240.

Independence Avenue is stopped short of the River Market by the Missouri 9 embankment.

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