By Kevin Collison
While concerns over closing the Buck O’Neil Bridge has been center stage in recent months, Kansas is moving forward with a project that will shut down a second major downtown bridge for two years, the westbound Lewis & Clark Viaduct.
And there’s a good chance both bridges, which carry a combined 62,000 vehicles daily, will be out at the same time for at least part of their construction period.
That will cause “significant” traffic problems, according to the Mid-America Regional Council.
“The timing of these two projects could result in a period of time (few months to a whole year) during which both bridges are closed to traffic,” according to a MARC report.
“MARC is currently working with MoDOT, the City of Kansas City and other partners to avoid an extended closure of the Buck O’Neil crossing.”
Lewis & Clark Viaduct carries westbound I-70 traffic between downtown KCK and KCMO. It opened in 1962 and was last overhauled in 1984. The rehab project originally was intended to have started a couple years ago, but budget problems in Kansas forced its delay.
Now, the Kansas Department of Transportation expects work to begin next spring and the viaduct, which carries 21,750 vehicles daily, will be closed for two years.
While much is still up in the air about the future of the Buck O’Neil Bridge, formerly the Broadway Bridge, it is anticipated that under whatever scenario, its shut down likely will overlap the Lewis & Clark project. The Buck O’Neil Bridge carries 40,000 vehicles on U.S. 169 between downtown and the Northland.
MARC expects the closing of the downtown bridges will hit the East Loop freeway, which carries traffic on I-70/U.S. 71 and I-29, and the South Loop freeway, I-670, particularly hard.
“In already congested areas, any minor traffic increase has the potential of creating congestion/delay in the surrounding network,” according to the MARC report.
The MARC report added that downtown Kansas City’s upcoming bridge conflict is the result of Missouri and Kansas political problems.
“Had funding for the KDOT project been available as originally planned, the Lewis & Clark Viaduct repairs would be nearing completion right now,” according to the report.
“Had funding for the replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge been made available through Amendment 7 in 2014, MoDOT would have been able to avoid costly repairs and extended closure of the existing bridge.”
Amendment 7 would have increased the state sales tax by 3/4 cent for 10 years to fund transportation projects. Voters rejected it by a larger margin.
John Fairfield, chairman of the Downtown Council of Kansas City infrastructure committee, said the anticipated closings will be “inconvenient, but we have no choice.
“Certainly it’s going to make access to downtown more difficult.”
Fairfield said the Downtown Council is working with the city and state to come up with a more comprehensive approach to eventually replacing the Buck O’Neil Bridge and redesigning the North Loop freeway.