KANSAS CITY, Mo. — City, county and state officials broke ground on the new Buck O'Neil Bridge Wednesday.
Representatives from Kansas City, Missouri, the state legislature, Jackson, Clay and Platte counties, Massman-Clarkson, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson were all in attendance.
The mood was jovial as the leaders gathered to talk about the project, particularly touting joint efforts to get the $220 million project funded.
It's taken years to get to this point.
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas noted the rarity of city council unanimously agreeing on a project.
“While there are disagreements sometimes, something we always agree on is this: We need to have a city that’s growing, that’s supporting its infrastructure, that’s building up a brighter future for the generations that follow,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he hopes the efforts thus far on the project can serve as a guide on future improvements.
“What I’m most excited about is to say that we gave the template already of how we can get things done, and this is a template for how we can do things in the future,” Lucas said. “Making sure that infrastructure projects aren’t just one community, aren’t just one part of a community, but are importantly something that all of us can see and value.”
Parson said the new bridge will bring "good times in Kansas City," and in the state.
“I’m excited about it for Kansas City, I’m excited about it for the state of Missouri, that we’re here today and really seeing the state move forward,” Parson said. “It’s these projects that will make our state even more available for more people to come here to do business, for people to go to work and for people to be able to enjoy life by going across this very bridge.”
The original bridge, known for much of its time as the Broadway Bridge, opened in 1956.
In 2016, it was renamed the Buck O’Neil Bridge in honor of the man the leaders said built bridges between people during his lifetime.
"[It's] still a great sense of hope, pride in this city we call home. I think we have to have pride in where we live and people like Buck O'Neil really made that easy to do," Frank White, Jackson County executive, said. "His legacy continues to build bridges of equity, economic achievement and businesses across this community."
Honored to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new Buck O'Neil Bridge! My friend Buck dedicated his life to being a champion for others, breaking down barriers and building bridges of equity. Thank you to @MoDOT @GovParsonMO @MayorLucasKC & all others who made the project happen. pic.twitter.com/i27s26e9dW— Frank White (@JCEFrankWhite) June 23, 2021
The new bridge will get rid of the congestion on Broadway and commuters will have direct access to Interstate 35.
It also comes with a 10-foot bike and pedestrian lane.
Over the years the bridge has become a major thoroughfare for commuters, especially those heading south from the Northland, but its age and dire need for repair couldn't be ignored.
In 2017, a short-term fix to rehab the bridge was approved, but leaders at the time emphasized it was a Band-Aid fix meant to get them through until a new bridge could be built.
Those plans began to move forward when the region secured a $25 million federal grant in 2018.
"When we did the bonding bills at the state capital three years ago and we freed up money to be able to do the Buck O'Neil bridges, that replaced over 100 bridges, as I speak to you today, with 250 more bridges across the state that are some of our worst to be done," Parson said.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, around 50,000 drivers commute across its half-mile length every day.
The new bridge will cater more to those drivers, cutting drive time by six to eight minutes.
The direct connection from U.S. 169 to I-35 35 will make that easier, though some worry it takes people out and through the city, rather than connecting them with the community.
That’s not the only critique the project has faced in these early stages. People have commented on the lack of architectural design similar to other bridges in the area.
An aesthetics committee is now working on ways to spruce up the new design.
"Definitely murals are something they're considering," said Mary Miller, MoDOT's project director for the bridge. "They're also thinking more about the bike-ped portion of that and how to make that more of a Buck O'Neil experience."
Kemet Coleman, urbanist and musician, is on the committee and is critical of the design for a few reasons, one of which are the dead zones he says it creates.
"If we can eliminate those dead zones where, you know, doing something underneath the bridges or creating more pedestrian friendly landscapes around the bridges, I think that's going to go a long way to offset some of the blight that will inevitably come," Coleman said.
The committee is looking for community input, then will present their ideas. That could happen in the fall.
Coleman wants to make any art, murals, and sculptures centered on O'Neil.
"For me, I think it's a greater storytelling opportunity for Buck O'Neil," Coleman said. "We have lot of spaces that are being created because of this bridge, and I think we should take advantage of that."
Other community members are upset about the loss of some buildings in the River Market to construction.
State officials are working on a potential appeasement.
They have agreed to pay for a feasibility study on the old bridge to see if it’s possible to turn it into a park or pedestrian path.
Spearheading the design-build construction of the project is Massman-Clarkson, A Joint Venture.