By Kevin Collison
The community goal of reconnecting Columbus Park and the River Market by removing the barrier of the Missouri 9 embankment is moving forward with a new study that intends to make a recommendation by year’s end.
“It has divided the community for more than half a century,” said Jeff McKerrow of Olsson engineering.
The first steering committee meeting of what’s being called the “Bridging Park & Market” study was held recently and a portal is on the Downtown Council website to educate the public and solicit input.
“We view this as a community enhancement project, not a transportation project,” said McKerrow, who is a member of the Bridging steering committee.
“The point is to enhance connectivity between the River Market and Columbus Park and restore Independence Avenue as one of the great boulevards in the city.”
Lowering Missouri 9 to grade was a key priority that came out of the Beyond the Loop study process three years ago. The study examined the downtown barriers and traffic issues posed by the North Loop/Interstate 70 freeway and Missouri 9.
Lowering the highway embankment and creating at-grade street intersections to reconnect the neighborhoods was listed as the top priority by a panel of national experts from the Urban Land Institute who reviewed the Beyond the Loop report.
The ULI panel was skeptical however, about concepts for mitigating the impact of the North Loop including downgrading the interstate to a parkway or decking the roadway trench. They were considered too costly to be economically beneficial for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, removing the Missouri 9 embankment to reknit the neighborhoods and restoring Independence Avenue as a major connector between downtown and northeast Kansas City could be a relatively affordable project, McKerrow said.
“This is a much less lower cost project than making massive changes to I-70 (North Loop), something that’s more tangible,” he said.
“Call it low-hanging fruit. It was well received by the Beyond the Loop panel.”
McKerrow said more engineering studies will be needed before a cost estimate could be made.
The Bridging Park & Market steering committee is considering two options for Missouri 9 suggested in the Beyond the Loop report, and another two possibilities suggested by Olsson.
One of the Olsson options calls for building a new Missouri 9 bridge over I-70. It would allow street intersections at Third and Fifth streets, as well as Missouri Avenue, Independence Avenue and Sixth street.
The other option would not build a new I-70 bridge. While it would allow new intersections at Third, Fifth and Sixth streets, it would require Independence Avenue to be reconnected beneath a Missouri 9 overpass.
McKerrow said any option that would impact I-70 would likely take longer because it would require federal review.
The next steps for the Bridging Park & Market process will be another steering committee meeting in September, said Jayne Siemens of Venice Communications, another committee member.
She said meetings of neighborhood groups and other stakeholders also are planned as well as two online public meetings to discuss proposals and educate people.
“Our goal is to look at the options and explore the experience,” Siemens said. “There’s a lot of excitement in the community.”
McKerrow said the Bridging Park & Market process will allow advocates to document what the next steps must be to continue and refine the planning process.
A recommendation on how to proceed is expected to be made by the end of the year, Siemen said.
The Bridging Park & Market study is being financed by the city through the Downtown Council. Other partners include the Missouri Department of Transportation, Mid-America Regional Council and North Kansas City.
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