Plan to reconnect neighborhoods could eliminate north side of downtown loop

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A regional planning agency is studying the future of the downtown freeway loop, with some suggesting that part of the highway is redundant and could be eliminated.

In the River Market, near the north part of the highway loop, some claim the idea would transform downtown.

The section of I-70 from Columbus Park to Kaw Point in KCK isn't traveled nearly as much as I-670 just a few blocks to the south, which provides similar access for traffic.

Proponents say removing the so-called north loop and I-70 link to KCK would save money by eliminating a costly stretch of bridges and pavement.

It also would reconnect neighborhoods surrounding downtown and open up more land for development.

The plan would make the downtown area more walkable and some of the bridges and right-of-way could be transformed into an urban pathway, hooking up to existing trails at Kaw Point on the west and Columbus Park to the east.

"The biggest benefit is reconnecting the street grid," said Eric Bunch, policy director for BikeWalkKC. "River Market has been disconnected from downtown for decades. This is an opportunity to bring it back together. Redevelop that land so it’s seamless for a person on a streetcar, who’s walking, who’s in a car, there’s no longer that big, wide, ugly gap between downtown and River Market. This would have an amazing effect of reconnecting that urban fabric."

Making the I-70 bridge into KCK an elevated bicycle pedestrian trail is similar to what other cities have done, as urban freeway removal has become a trend.

The proposal Kansas City is considering is similar to the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn.

Organizers say the study is in the early planning stages, and the proposal to reclaim highway land is just one of many options that will be studied.

The Mid America Regional Council is hosting a public meeting on the future of the North Loop Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Central Library.

You can find more information on the project at BeyondTheLoopKC.com.