New O’Neil Bridge Still May See Occasional Backups for I-35 Traffic

About 100 people attended a public hearing on the Buck O'Neil Bridge replacement project at the Mid-America Regional Council meeting this week.

By Kevin Collison

The proposed $225 million replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge will directly connect I-35 and U.S. 169, but because of site constrictions motorists still will likely see backups during peak traffic hours, a top MoDOT official said this week.

There will be only one lane in each direction connecting the planned bridge with I-35 traffic, according to the “Central Alternative” recommended by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Mary Miller, project director for the bridge replacement, said site issues where the planned replacement bridge will land downtown prevented building multi-lane connections each way.

“There was no good place to drop another lane,” she said at a public hearing this week on the project. “Two-lane ramps wouldn’t work.

“People will still see improved traffic flow, but during peak traffic hours there still will be slowdowns. Most of the day there should be a free flow.”

Miller estimated about 40 percent of the current traffic using the Buck O’Neil Bridge travels between I-35 and U.S. 169.

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

The planned replacement bridge also will have a direct, multi-lane connection to Broadway and I-35 will continue to connect with the North Loop.

About 100 people attended the public hearing earlier this week at the Mid-America Regional Council. They viewed poster boards of the new project and a 12-foot road map showing how it will connect with U.S. 169 and downtown.

Miller said funding for the project has been identified, 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 next step for the project will be seeking approval from the Federal Highway Administration in April followed by a request for proposals this July. One firm will be chosen to both design and build the new bridge.

The schedule calls for the design-build firm to be chosen in February 2021 with work starting in mid-2021. Completion is expected in December 2024.

Miller also said the new bridge is being designed to complement a potential future redesign or elimination of the North Loop freeway that separates downtown from the River Market.

A planning endeavor called Beyond the Loop has identified several options for the roadway and its trench including scaling it back to a parkway or eliminating it altogether.

“The new bridge would accommodate any options,” Miller said.

The existing 65 year-old bridge will be removed when the replacement project is completed.

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