North Loop Overhaul Plan Hits Federal, WyCo Potholes

An image depicting how the River Market could be reconnected with rest of downtown if the North Loop freeway was removed someday. (Image from Confluence architecture)

By Kevin Collison

The city’s ambitious plans to design a new future for the current, awkward bridge and freeway layout on the north side of downtown has hit unexpected blowback from Washington and Wyandotte County.

First off, an application for $60 million in federal funding to help pay for replacing the obsolete Buck O’Neil Bridge was rejected unexpectedly by the U.S. Department of Transportation late last week. A list of projects receiving funding is here.

Kansas City officials had wanted to use the federal money from what’s called the INFRA program (Infrastructure for Rebuilding America) to replace the local share. The bridge, which is currently partly closed for repairs, carries traffic on U.S. 169.

While full funding still has been identified for the $200 million replacement, the rejection by federal officials dashes hopes the city’s share could have been used instead to upgrade the bridge design and pay for other local infrastructure projects.

City voters approved renewing the capital improvement sales tax in early April.

“This would have backfilled local money,” said a government source familiar with the INFRA application. “It means local taxpayers are paying for a structure the feds should be paying for.”

State transportation officials anticipate opening a new bridge by 2023.

One suggestion for the North Loop calls for it to be shifted to one side of its current trench to allow more development on the current right of way. (Image from Confluence architecture)

Closer to home, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and the Kansas DOT oppose a key, long-range concept in the ongoing Beyond the Loop study to either remove the North Loop freeway aka Interstate 70 or replace it with a landscaped boulevard.

The 1960s freeway, which is marred by poorly-designed exit and entrance ramps, divides the River Market from the Central Business District.

A national panel of experts assembled by the Urban Land Institute, praised the idea last year, although cautioned it probably would not be cost effective for at least 10 years.

The ULI panel did endorse a proposal to lower Missouri 9 to grade and reconnecting Independence Avenue between the River Market and Columbus Park.

That idea also has been given a high priority in the Beyond the Loop study being conducted by the Mid-America Regional Council.

Lowering Missouri 9 to grade level could free up River Market land for redevelopment. (Image from Confluence architecture)

In objecting to removing or reducing the North Loop, Kansas and WyCo officials expressed “grave concerns” it would hamper interstate access to downtown Kansas City, Kan. and the Fairfax Industrial area.

“The I-70 traffic movement is extremely important to Kansas City, Kan. and Wyandotte County,” County Administrator Doug Bach said in a letter to MARC.

“Unfortunately, some measures of the Remove and Redesignate option increase the travel time over this small segment by over 3 minutes.”

River Market resident Matt Staub said the opposition from across the state line was disappointing.

“As a River Market resident, it (the North Loop) is a huge divide and the land is valuable to the city,” he said.

“It also doesn’t work really well. It’s redundant, has a high rate of crashes and eliminating it would not have an unmanageable impact on traffic.”

MARC is continuing to accept public comments to its Beyond the Loop study until Friday. Go to the website here and scroll to the bottom where comments are being solicited.

A look at how a potential reconnection of Independence Avenue might appear in the River Market. (Image from Confluence architecture)

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  1. Then secede and create the KC city-state that solves many of todays issues between poaching businesses, representation, tax base inclusion and more. Be bold.

  2. I wonder if they’ve considered using value capture to pay for the bridge and improvements. There’s a lot of land being opened up for development that could be leased out by the city instead of sold…with the proceeds used to bolster the financing needed to make this happen. This sort of project will create massive value for KC…a portion of which could be easily captured to actually pay for the improvements. The rest of the world does this…so should we.

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