With changes in funding, a new Buck O’Neil Bridge is looking more likely

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It appears a new bridge will be built to replace the Buck O'Neil Bridge after all.

Voters approved Kansas City's $60 million share last year through a 1-cent sales tax. MARC secured $40 million in funding through various sources. Then late last year the U.S. Department of Transportation pledged a $25 million BUILD grant for the project.

MoDOT was willing to pay the amount necessary to repair the bridge, but never committed to the remaining $75 million needed for the $200 million project to fully replace it.

But this week Patrick McKenna, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said he now saw "a certainty of path" to being able to replace the Buck O'Neil Bridge, something he called a top regional priority.

The new commitment to the project centers around the I-70 bridge at Rocheport near Columbia. This week the state accepted an $81.2 million federal INFRA grant to replace it.

That automatically triggered more than $300 million in state bonding to fix more than 200 bridges across the state that are in disrepair. Gov. Parson signed Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 in June that funded his bridge program if the state accepted a federal grant for bridges.

McKenna said at least $60 million of that is earmarked for Kansas City.

"Bridges are crucial for connecting this city. They connect our developing areas north of the river obviously with the downtown," said Martin Rivarola, Mid America Regional Council's assistant director of transportation and land use.

The Buck O'Neil Bridge was full of orange barrels last year for repairs to expansion joints and cable replacement. Experts say those won't expand the life of the bridge, built in 1956, that much longer.

"The bridge is at the end of its lifespan. It's got a lot of rust, and the type of design you can't really rehabilitate it. You can't really unrust an old bridge," said Wes Minder, Kansas City's innovation engineer.

An environmental study has already been planned for the bridge while they wait on the project to be fully funded.

"The environmental study is going to look at ways to improve that connection so you can get north/south a lot better and get in and out of downtown a lot easier," Minder said.

No official designs have been submitted, but preliminary ideas would realign the bridge to connect Highway 169 with I-35, eliminating a stoplight at Broadway that often back ups for hundreds of cars.

"This is kind of screwy," George Sanowski said.

"This is the worst part of what (traffic) I experience through my day," Payton Kinnison said, also sitting at the light.

With funding still to be finalized and studies to be completed, engineers tell FOX4 the earliest they could realistically begin construction of the new bridge is 2022. It would take about two years to complete.

The plan would to be keep the existing bridge open throughout the majority of that construction period.

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