KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Buildings, billboards and bridges may all need to come down in order to build a new Buck O'Neil Bridge taking U.S. Route 169 over the Missouri River in Kansas City, Missouri.
This fall, the Missouri Department of Transportation launched an environmental study as required by the federal government. The study focuses on thousands of factors and alternatives connected to constructing a new bridge. The goal is to determine the best option and best use of public dollars.
"If you ask 10 different people where a bridge ought to go, what it ought to look like, how big it ought to, you'll get ten different answers," explained Brian Kidwell, MoDOT's district engineer in the Kansas City area. "This tries to ask thousands of people, experts in a lot of different areas, to coordinate the pros and cons and all the different wants and needs and impacts of dozens of various alternatives so that when we do spend the public's dollars, and we do build a new bridge, if that's, in fact, the outcome of this study, it's the best project we can deliver."
The study will look at how construction and a new bridge would impact railroads, the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, the Missouri River, historic buildings on the south side of the river, and traffic patterns, for example.
All those factors make this environmental study the most complicated Kidwell has ever been a part of. It will take a contractor more than one year to complete the study.
Kidwell said construction of a new bridge may include the need to tear down buildings alongside the current route. His team will even study the alternative of not building a bridge altogether.
"One of the scenarios we look at is a no-build. What if we don't do anything, what if we don't spend the public's money on this particular structure, what happens, what are the impacts of that? So we will look at all options from doing nothing to building a big, new bridge with Interstate 35 connections," he said.
MoDOT will have a better perspective on how to move forward once the study is complete in early 2020. Kansas City and Missouri are splitting the $1.8 million cost of the study.
Construction work happening now on the current Buck O'Neil Bridge should stretch the structure's lifespan for another five or so years. Long enough for MoDOT to determine what to do next based on the results of this study.