Guv Pledges Money, But Big Questions Remain for Buck O’Neil Bridge Project

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MoDOT has recommended an option to replace the aging Buck O'Neil Bridge. (Image from Missouri Department of Transportation)

By Kevin Collison

Now that Gov. Parsons says the state will provide the final funding to replace the aging Buck O’Neil Bridge, the next big questions are exactly where it will be built and how much it will ultimately cost.

MoDOT’s senior local official said Thursday the preferred alignment of the project should be determined by the end of March.

Dave Silvester, the Missouri Department of Transportation district engineer for the Kansas City region, said his department is still completing its environmental review of the three alternatives proposed for the project.

“The preferred alternative will be determined when we wrap up the environmental process in March,” he said.

Silvester said a public meeting to discuss the options should take place in late February or early March.

In his State of the State address this week, Parsons said the state will furnish the last $60 million for the replacement project, which could cost between an estimated $180 million to $250 million depending on which option is chosen.

MoDOT has identified three possible alternatives for locating a replacement bridge:

Adjacent Alternative (Image by MoDOT)

An “Adjacent Alternative” that would build a new bridge parallel to the existing structure which would then be demolished. It’s benefits would include accommodating pedestrians and bicycles, improve downtown access and minimize the need to acquire new right of way.

The option however, would not provide a direct connection to I-35 or improve community connectivity, according to MoDOT. It’s the least expensive option with an estimated cost of $180- to $200 million.

West Alternative

A “West Alternative” that would provide a new bridge with direct connections to I-35, remove the old bridge, improve airport and downtown access, accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, improve community connectivity, minimize the amount of right-of-way required and minimize construction closures for U.S. 169 and Broadway.

That option would require temporary closures along I-70 during construction. It would cost an estimated $230- to $250 million.

Central Alternative

A “Central Alternative” that would provide a new bridge with direct connections to I-35, accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, partially improve community connectivity, remove the old bridge and improve airport and downtown access.

It would require additional right of way and cause temporary closures along US 169 and I-70 for a moderate time period during construction. Its estimated cost is $210- to $230 million.

At this point, $200 million in funding has been committed to the project by the feds, state and city including the latest pledge by the governor.

Where the additional funds will come from should a more expensive alternative be chosen has not been identified, at least publicly.

During public hearings held by the Mid-America Regional Council the past couple years on the Buck O’Neil Bridge project, the overwhelming consensus backed a new bridge that would directly connect to I-35 with exits for downtown.

Participants also strongly supported having protected bike and pedestrian access on the bridge.

Ron Achelpohl, MARC director of transportation and environment, said his agency is not recommending an alternative route for the bridge, but is satisfied about one key aspect of what’s being studied by MoDOT.

“What we care about is will the bridge include bike and pedestrian access,” he said. “We’re satisfied that’s baked into all the alternatives we’ve looked at.”

The City of Kansas City, which is committed to providing $60 million for the project, also has not taken a position on which alternative it prefers.

“We are still working through the options and reviewing the corridors, as part of the federal environmental assessment process,” Chris Hernandez, director of city communication, said in a statement.

“Community input has been an important of refining and developing the possible choices, and MoDOT’s design-build process will lead the project’s partners to a final decision.”

Jon Stephens, executive director of Port KC, declined to discuss his agency’s preferred option, but did praise the governor’s announcement the state would provide the final funding required to build a new bridge.

“We’re incredibly excited and grateful the new Buck O’Neil Bridge is moving forward,” he said. “It provides a generational opportunity for a new bridge that provides connectivity between the riverfront, River Market and West Bottoms.”

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