More downtown driving headaches as plan to replace Buck O’Neil Bridge advances

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More headaches for drivers heading in and out of downtown.

The city says the southbound lanes of the Buck O'Neil Bridge will close for six months beginning in July.

This is on top of the two year shut down already underway of Interstate 70 westbound from downtown to replace the Lewis and Clark Viaduct.

Downtown commuters may face a lot of frustration in the next five years.

The closures are designed to be the first steps to replacing the Buck O'Neil Bridge with a new crossing that will provide a direct connection to Interstate 35.

Commuters don't want to simply repair what many call a bad traffic design.

Many want to eliminate the traffic snarls in the north loop that happen almost every day.

"Most folks, including my neighbors, want the new bridge," said Wes Minder, the city's innovations engineer. "They want the better connection because they are tired of sitting in the backups. There are a lot of folks too who are tired of watching people walk in the middle of the bridge, try to cross that. The hope is we’ll deal with a little bit of pain for the long term benefit because we'd rather have a new structure. With a better connection that better works for downtown for the future."

But before a new bridge can be built, the city and state will spend $7 million on temporary repairs and environmental studies that need to happen now to get the Buck O'Neil Bridge through the next five years.

The southbound lanes will close for six months beginning in July, forcing Northlanders to use the Heart of America, Bond, or Fairfax bridges to get downtown.

"The entire metro area would rather see a new bridge," said councilperson Dan Fowler, who represents the Northland. "The planned bridge rehab that would shut the bridge down for two years would do nothing to improve it. It would not increase its capacity, it would not change its configuration, it would not remedy a lot of the existing problems there now. We need a new bridge. It needs to be reconfigured. We need to tie the highways into each other and avoid some of the bottlenecks we're experiencing now. That’s a major factor for entire metro area."

The Missouri Department of Transportation will shoulder the $100 million cost of replacing the bridge. Reworking the north loop to make a direct connection to I-35 will cost another $100-million.

The city has secured $40 million in federal money from the Mid America Regional Council and has applied for federal grants. But it's more likely if voters extend the public improvement sales tax in April, 25 percent of the city's share will be earmarked for this project.

Public meetings are expected next month to unveil alternatives showing what a reconfigured north loop traffic flow pattern may look like. City managers hope construction of a new bridge would be completed by 2024.