Kansas City couldn't run without its bridges. Here's a guide to the city's most iconic structures
If you nerd out to concrete, steel and epic feats of engineering — or simply admire the bridges you cross on the way to work — read on.
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Big or small, historic or state-of-the-art, Kansas City is wealthy in bridges. One look from an elevated position — from Case Park on Jefferson Street, for instance — is enough to get the picture. The vantage point there looks down over our distinctive row of Missouri River-spanning bridges and their adjacent neighborhoods.
We’ve written about the 12th Street Viaduct before, a charmingly industrial, double-decker structure whose lower entrance can be found on Hickory Street in West Bottoms.
But now, with work starting on the Rock Island Bridge as early as October, Kansas City is set to get its own entertainment bridge, complete with coffee shops, a food hall and connections to surrounding trails. For reference, the Rock Island Bridge is longer than the St. Louis Arch is tall.
So, if you nerd out to concrete, steel and epic feats of engineering — or simply admire the bridges you cross on the way to work — read on.
Christopher S. Bond Bridge
Arguably the most emblematic bridge in Kansas City — or at least the one people remember for its tall pylon and network of cables — the Christopher S. Bond Bridge crosses the Muddy Missouri just downriver of Berkley Riverfront Park. It was named for former Missouri Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond.
The sky-high, “delta-shaped” pylon stretches 316 feet above the river, making the bridge the tallest in Missouri. You just can’t miss it. Newcomers or visitors to Kansas City should definitely view the bridge from the riverfront at night, when it’s all aglow.
When the bridge was built in 2010, there was some talk among the Federal Aviation Administration about the humongous pylon disrupting traffic at the downtown airport one mile west. The FAA changed flight procedures at the airport to give planes more than 700 feet of clearance above it.
And though the Bond replaced the smaller Paseo Bridge, the former was built a smidge downriver so the latter could stay open to traffic. At the time, MODOT allowed “aesthetic design [of the bridge] to come from outside the department.”
In other words, the Kansas City community was involved in the design for a transit service it would be using. Talk about building connections.
Independence Avenue Bridge
We tried to write an introduction fitting enough for the Independence Avenue Bridge in Northeast Kansas City, but words don’t do it justice. You’ll have to check out the structure the locals call “undefeated” for yourself — just don’t do it in a truck over 12 feet tall.
Since the dawn of time — one report says 1912, another 1937 — the concrete slab bridge has been shearing the tops off unsuspecting box trucks and (probably) low-flying spaceships. It has its own Twitter and Facebook pages. It has t-shirts. One might say it has solidified its status as a pop culture icon and the hungriest bridge in the metro.
Technically operated by the Kansas City Terminal Railway, the bridge serves a practical purpose. But even news stations are in on the joke now. In June, Northeast News reported on the bridge’s signage upgrade, meant to give “GPS-dependent truck drivers” more warning before getting gobbled.
Keep doing your thing, bridge. Just don’t hurt anybody.
Town of Kansas Bridge
The Town of Kansas Bridge is actually in Missouri, and you’ll have to walk or roll over it. No cars are allowed on the structure, but it’s ADA accessible and open to bicyclists.
Serving as a very scenic connection between the north end of Main Street in River Market, the Riverfront Heritage Trail and Berkley Riverfront, the elevated walkway includes an observation deck above the water.
From on high, you’ll get striking views of the ASB Railroad and greenish Heart of America bridges to the east, and the Hannibal Railway and Buck O’Neil bridges to the west. Scattered about the bridge’s crisscrossing metal bars are locks with hearts and initials scribbled on them. The place is, in a word, romantic.
The bridge is also historical in its own right. Located in the same spot as an old river wharf, it’s marked by a plaque outlining the original birthplace of Kansas City, once known as the Town of Kansas. City founder John Calvin McCoy established a trading post at the wharf in 1833, calling it Westport Landing.
“It was McCoy’s idea to use a rock ledge on the Missouri River as a dock for the riverboat owned by him and his father,” writes historian Susan Jezak Ford.
Because he sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War, McCoy was asked to leave Kansas City in 1863.
Buck O'Neil Bridge
Named after the Kansas City Monarchs' beloved first baseman and manager for the Negro American League, the first Black coach in all of Major League Baseball and latest inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame — the new Buck O’Neil Bridge will reach completion in 2024. You may have already seen construction in the place where U.S. highway 169 crosses the Missouri River.
The triple arch bridge was formerly called the Broadway Bridge, which opened in 1956 and had tolls on it until 1991. It’s still safe but nearing the end of its operational life. Approximately 50,000 cars cross the current structure each day.
And though that section of Broadway can be chaotic at rush hour, it’s a great example of the extent of Kansas City transit. Crossing the river northbound, you’ll pass the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to the west and a huge railyard to the east.
If you’re traveling back into town from the international airport up north, U.S. Highway 169 offers some of the best views of downtown Kansas City — day or night.
As for the Buck O'Neil Bridge, the Missouri Department of Transportation has a fun live feed of the project as it goes up, piped in from a camera overlooking the river. Go ahead. Spy on the bridge.
Locust Creek Covered Bridge
The oldest and last bridge on the list is also the one farthest from Kansas City. If you want to hit the road, consider heading northeast towards Chillicothe and the Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. Because who doesn’t love a quaint covered bridge?
Completed in 1868, the bridge is built of white pine and vertical iron rods, both part of the Howe-truss design scheme patented by architect William Howe.
Out of the four surviving covered bridges in Missouri, the one at Locust Creek is the longest, measuring 151 feet. Believe it or not, a state highway ran across it — Missouri Route 8 — in the early 20th century.
The grounds around the bridge are quite marshy, but visitors to the historic site can explore by trail. From Kansas City, the Locust Creek Covered Bridge is an hour and a half drive.
Also, if you see any trolls, don’t give them your money. Gas is expensive enough.
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