KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Imagine a Kansas City united by infrastructure rather than divided — Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said Wednesday such long-deferred dreams will soon be put into action.
In a press conference, the mayor announced the kickoff of the city’s request for proposals (RFP) for Reconnecting Kansas City, which will assist in the rehabilitation of U.S. Highway 71 from 85th Street north to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, specifically regarding "transformational safety and connectivity improvements," per the city.
“While it is very hard to give people houses back, people like those in my family who lost them ages ago, while it is hard to rebuild neighborhoods and communities that were strong, that were vibrant and that have been vital to our community, we see this as a next important step,” Lucas said.
Rather than delivering the “economic development activity that was promised generations ago," the construction of Highway 71 has led to traffic accidents, injuries and deaths. Pollution from idling and no resolution to the harm created have also negatively affected “Black families in southeast Kansas City and in east Kansas City," according to Lucas.
With the $5 million Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) federal grant KC was awarded last August, Lucas said the city can now “make up for some mistakes of the past.”
Following Lucas’ opening remarks, there were four additional speakers — Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw, 5th District At-Large Councilmember Darrell Curls, 3rd District At-Large Councilmember Melissa Patterson Hazley and KCMO Transportation Director Jason Waldron.
Parks-Shaw spoke to the strife her district, the 5th District, has endured from noise pollution to food deserts and closed businesses.
But “with strong neighborhoods, Kansas City will thrive,” Parks-Shaw shared confidently.
Councilmember Curls said he believes Reconnecting Kansas City is “going to connect more neighborhoods — this is going to reinvigorate businesses up and down the Prospect Corridor.”
He also said he believes this initiative will allow neighborhoods to finally be heard after years of neglect.
Another issue created by Highway 71 was an unsafe environment.
Without the foresight “infrastructure decisions have long-standing consequences,” Councilmember Patterson Haley said Kansas City created its own health crisis.
“Kansas City has the highest rate of adolescent asthma in the country, among the highest rate in an urban core, due to how we’ve built our infrastructure," she said. “Children are inhaling these fumes, they are not very protected by the green infrastructure around it and it’s left our families very vulnerable.”
With an opportunity to correct the past and re-imagine the future, Waldron shared excitement about the project and appreciation for the financial aid KC received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Like they (colleagues) said, this is going to be community-driven conversation, and we’re going to use transportation just to be the start of a more holistic conversation about economic development, about affordable housing and transit — you name it,” Waldron said.
With much work ahead, Lucas cited current work on theI-670 South Loop project and the intention to re-evaluate I-35 and I-70. While the Crossroads Arts District has seen "hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in recent years," Lucas said the same cannot be said for the west side.
"Although we cannot right all past wrongs, we know that we can do better," he said.
Continued preservation and protective work for communities along I-35 and I-70 will be supported by the Missouri Department of Transportation as the organization continues to expand and straighten the interstates, per Lucas.
Ultimately, the mayor's vision for KC and the city's urban core is to "no longer just be a place that people cut through, not just a place to bypass, but a place that we’re invested in, a place we want to be and a place where we are truly supporting development.”
The Highway 71 project RFP will close at 2 p.m. Oct. 27.
With the proposals in motion, Lucas said more conversation in council meetings, as well as discussions with community members, are ahead.