By Kevin Collison
An ambitious proposal to eventually cover up to four blocks of the South Loop freeway trench with a downtown park is continuing and won’t be hindered by the upcoming replacement of the Baltimore Avenue viaduct.
“MoDOT coordinated with the city during the planning and design phases of the Baltimore bridge replacement project,” said Matt Killion, area engineer. “As a result, the new bridge will not preclude the lid from being implemented.”
It’s been more than three years since an HNTB study prepared for the Downtown Council determined decking a four-block stretch of Interstate 670, aka the South Loop, could be accomplished for an estimated $140 million, significantly less than earlier studies.
The idea of covering the noisy freeway trench for a stretch as long as Wyandotte to Grand has not waned in popularity since then.
It was recently listed by downtown residents as one of their “big ideas” for major future investments, and is backed by adjoining property owners including Cordish, Loews Hotel and a development group pursuing a 500-unit apartment project on Main Street.
Bill Dietrich, Downtown Council president and CEO, said a working committee led by his organization had been developing a South Loop deck concept for anywhere between one- and four-blocks depending on financing before Covid hit.
“The South Loop Link is one of the catalytic projects included in the Imagine Downtown KC 2030 strategic plan,” Dietrich said. “The project was put on hold with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Downtown Council has re-engaged a work group of public and private organizations to continue the research into the feasibility of the South Loop Link.”
Dietrich added the South Loop concept is part of an overall strategy called “Reimagining the Loop” that also is considering the future of the North and East sections of the downtown freeway Loop.
The freeway ring was built in the 1960s and cut off the Central Business District from its surrounding areas. Extensive study already has been done on eliminating or downgrading the North Loop freeway to reconnect downtown with the River Market.
“The (South Loop) project was originally conceived to help unite two important urban neighborhoods, the Crossroads Arts District and the Central Business District,” Dietrich said.
He described the what’s now called the South Loop Link as “a public realm green space that would include a destination park with gardens, an open green lawn, playground, public art, outdoor seating with shade, an amphitheater and of course, room for dogs.”
Civic leaders have pointed to a similar project in Dallas, Klyde Warren Park, that opened in 2012. It covers a three-block stretch of a freeway that had separated that city’s Uptown neighborhood from downtown Dallas.
The Dallas project cost about $110 million with the cost split evenly between public and private funding sources.
Decking the South Loop is considered a long-range proposal, perhaps within the next 10 years, but that timetable could be accelerated if the Biden Administration is successful in winning approval of its massive infrastructure bill now before Congress.
“We are working to advance the design of the project to a shovel-ready status, competitively positioning us for future infrastructure investment opportunities,” Dietrich said.
He said next steps include re-engaging local, state and federal officials; securing funds for engineering and environmental studies; determining ongoing maintenance and operating costs, and analyzing its economic development benefits.
A separate study done three years ago estimated decking the South Loop could generate a $490 million economic impact.
An entity called Sky Real Estate LLC recently submitted a $254 million apartment development proposal to the city that calls for a 506-unit project on both sides of Main just south of the freeway trench between Truman Road and 16th Street.
Cordish also has developed its Two Light apartment tower and is expected to start soon on its Three Light project, both of which overlook the South Loop. Loews executives also are advocating for the deck to better connect their new convention hotel with downtown.
Killion said the Missouri Department of Transportation is willing to work with downtown interests to pursue the South Loop Link concept.
“There is significant planning, environmental, and specific design work that needs to take place before the lid can become a reality,” he said. “MoDOT will certainly be a part of any process moving forward.”
As for replacing the Baltimore Avenue viaduct over the South Loop, a $3.2 million project, work is scheduled to begin May 21 at 8 p.m.
The bridge demolition will require the total closure of I-670 between I-35 and I-70 until approximately 5 a.m. on Monday, May 24, according to MoDOT. Drivers are encouraged to use the northern portion of the downtown loop around the closure of I-670.
The bridge replacement work also will close eight east- and westbound ramps to I-670 over that weekend.
The new bridge, which is not expected to be completed until December, will be the same height and width as the current bridge. The decorative fencing on the existing bridge will be re-attached to the new structure, according to MoDOT.
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.