Going ‘Beyond the Loop:' Planners consider changes to downtown loop

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the past year and a half, regional planners have been busy investigating what’s “Beyond the Loop.”

That’s the title of a recently-completed study initiated by the Mid America Regional Council. It delves into possible changes for downtown Kansas City, including the removal of the North Loop. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Renderings, maps show possible future of Kansas City's north loop

"We were really wanting to come up with a regional consensus around a set of reasonable alternatives that can be moved into future planning work," Ron Achelpohl, MARC's Director of Transportation and Environment, said.

The agency teamed up with the Federal Highway Administration, MoDOT, the City of Kansas City, Missouri, KDOT and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas for the analysis. 

"Beyond the Loop" has several big components, one of which is replacing the Buck O'Neil Bridge.

Sara Copeland, the Community Development Director for North Kansas City, served on an advisory group for the study. 

"We think there's some real benefits to us if traffic that just passes through North Kansas City relocates to a new Buck O'Neil Bridge rather than Heart of America," she said. 

But the big idea getting a lot of attention involves eliminating the North Loop, the portion of I-70 flanked by I-670 and I-71 in downtown Kansas City.

"That would have the most potential for redevelopment and economic development of all the options we looked at. It also has the most significant traffic impact," Achelpohl said.

The Unified Government of KCK and Wyandotte County is already sounding the alarm about the potential consequences. In a letter to MARC dated March 27, 2018, the county administrator asked the agency to eliminate the option from the study. He wrote that some measures would increase the travel time for that segment of the loop by more than 3 minutes. Mayor David Alvey declined our request for an interview on Wednesday about Beyond the Loop. 

In a separate letter to MARC, a KDOT transportation engineer reiterated concerns, listed as "reduced interstate access to the Fairfax industrial center and downtown Kansas City, Kan., and the apparent inability of I-670 to safely and efficiently accommodate I-70 traffic."

Others have concerns about costs.

According to Achelpohl, maintaining the downtown loop as it is will cost $90 million through 2040. Depending on which options are chosen, the proposed changes could cost anywhere from $230 to $400 million.

"It's a perfect example of the ability to waste money," John Brady, who lives in Columbus Park, said.

He was commenting on another option in the study, which would lower MO Route 9 to ground level. That proposal would eliminate the wall currently separating Columbus Park and River Market.

On the other hand, Michael Garrozo, who opened his restaurant in Columbus Park in 1989, loves the idea.

"It's a great area, and why not? Let's open it up," he said.

The only proposal in Beyond the Loop with some funding identified is the replacement for Buck O'Neil Bridge.

You can submit your thoughts on the plans until June 15 here.

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