MoDOT O’Neil Bridge Design Slammed as ‘Hunk of Concrete’

New renderings of the planned Buck O'Neil Bridge replacement have been released by MODOT.

By Kevin Collison

When it comes to the new design for replacing the downtown Buck O’Neil Bridge, mighty MoDOT has struck out, at least on social media.

While the alignment and basic description of the $220 million replacement project was publicized a year ago, it took MoDOT’s release of architectural renderings and a virtual flyover this week to unleash a torrent of criticism.

And the Missouri Department of Transportation says it’s too late to change.

“According to Mary Miller, MoDOT Project Director for the BOB (Buck O’Neil Bridge), this is the plan going forward,” a spokesman said. “It was awarded at the February Commission meeting.”

The Massman-Clarkson design-build joint venture, an all Kansas City-based team, was selected over competing bids by two other design-build teams.

The plan picked to replace the aging steel-girder Buck O’Neil Bridge was one of three options considered by MoDOT and shown at public hearings in 2019. The span opened in 1956 as the Broadway Bridge but was renamed to honor the Monarchs baseball great.

It was the “Central Alternative” option that was chosen and offered for public review a year ago. Work on the  project will begin this fall and is expected to be completed by late fall of 2024, according to MoDOT.

“There was also outreach to the public on this since 2018 which included online meetings and our in-person public hearing last March,” a MoDOT spokesman said. “This alignment was preferred by the public.”

Funding for the project is 50 percent coming from the state and 50 percent from the city. That includes a $25 million BUILD federal grant and other federal highway funding.

The new bridge will provide a direct connection between U.S. 169 and Interstate 35, and include a 10-foot path for bicycles and pedestrians.

But it will also require the demolition of several buildings in the River Market, a loss that became more visible in the new renderings.

Rendering of planned O’Neil Bridge replacement looking south.

In defense of MoDOT’s decision, Miller said the replacement won’t just be the bland concrete span is appears to be in the renderings.

“The new bridge will also include color changing LED lights along the ped path, decorative bridge railing, a scenic overlook with benches and plaques, decorative form liner on MSE walls,

“Murals on some of the bridge piers and along one retaining wall, improvements at the riverfront trailhead on the south side of the river and landscaping,” she said in a statement.

The current plan calls for the existing, 65 year-old bridge calls for it to be razed when the new span opens, but Miller said MoDOT remains open to alternatives.

“Removal of the existing bridge is in our contract,” she said, “however, the city has been looking at the possibility of keeping the existing bridge.”

View of the O’Neil bridge looking north.

Some people have suggested the old bridge could be converted to a pedestrian and bicycle span or even transformed into a linear park, similar to the High Line in New York City.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said on social media the city is strongly considering the idea of acquiring the bridge, although provided no details about what the ongoing cost of maintaining and repairing the old bridge could be if it were to take ownership.

The proposed O’Neil Bridge replacement will connect with I-35 with one-lane (blue) in each direction.

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  1. Although I certainly understand cost and long-term feasibility restraints… i’ll be sad to see the Buck Oneil bridge go.

    It was exciting to cross over the BO/Broadway bridge as a child. It seem to frame downtown KC & the Missouri River. My two boys feel the same way.

    Hopefully something can be done with the old bridge : )

  2. Except for the unnecessary loss of historic buildings, I don’t think anyone’s complaining about the alignment. We’re complaining about the absolute featurelessness of the structure.

    Apparently it will be decorated at the pedestrian scale, which is good in itself and certainly better than this nothing. But the missed monumental opportunity is… well, missed, and will be missed for a long time.

    I can certainly understand why this design won bidding: it’s possibly the least bridge imaginable, a road that happens to cross water. This ironically makes it a perfect 20th Century Kansas City bridge, come too late. We have long in this region built and lived as if none of our creeks and rivers exist (except to run through golf courses or to be dammed to make lakes). Finally, we have a bridge which pretends the Missouri itself is not there.

  3. I attended many of the sessions conducted to decide the alignment of the new bridge over the past few years and there was NEVER any discussion of the design or look of the bridge. We deserve something much more architectural than this!

  4. Give me function over form any day of the week. We do not have money or resources for superfluous features for every bridge in the country; this bridge is no different. Give me safe and utilitarian any day of the week. If you’ve got the extra money to make it “pretty,” then by all means start a partnership with MODOT and make it pretty.

  5. What a squandered opportunity to build something that can and should be an iconic addition to the city.

    Overall I’m extremely disappointed. Also a little irked at the claim that it’s too late to change the design; we’re going to be living with this thing for at least the next 50 years… if we need to pause and take a few extra months to get it right, do it.

  6. Found something interesting: Massman & HNTB have already worked together on the Champ Clark replacement bridge. It is IDENTICAL to the bridge being presented here.

    Per this article, the MoDOT project directory flat-out said, “In our Request for Proposals, we told teams we weren’t looking for anything fancy.”

    Explains a lot. Especially the motivation behind the design; Massman & HNTB probably save millions in profit by recycling the design.

  7. It seems to me, based on the aerial diagrams of the new bridge’s alignment, that the foot of the existing bridge and the right of way that it currently occupies could be replaced with a brand new structure spanning the river, with new flyover ramps that connect to the 35/west loop that are constructed around the existing buildings instead of demolishing them as in the current plan. I guess that might require more curves to the connecting ramps that are maybe not recommended, but still it is curious to me that the preferred plan by MoDot includes acquiring and demolishing properties in order to build new structures that probably aren’t overall larger than the current structure’s footprint. It seems like money could be saved by not having to purchase properties and demolish structures.

  8. All of the new highway interchanges designed in the past decade are ugly to look at and very scary to drive, Particularly the Grabdview Triangle and the Jo Co Gateway. The proposed design of the Buck O’Neill/Broadway Bridge is a NIGHTMARE ! There is no “design” to it. It is just huge ramps of concrete that will destroy more of Downtown’s historic buildings and take up huge amounts of land that will always be full of weeds and trash! NO! NO! NO to this dreadful design effort!

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