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.
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.”
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.
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.