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Kansas City drivers will have to change routes as construction closes parts of I-35 until December

Four people wearing yellow safety vests and white hard hats stand behind another man in a safety vest and hard hat who is talking at a podium. Behind them is the Kansas City skyline and the current Buck O'Neil Memorial Bridge.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Deputy Project Director for the Buck O'Neil bridge project James Pflum talks about the progress of the project and the upcoming lane closures scheduled for I-35 between 12th Street and I-70 starting in March.

Starting in March, construction work for the Buck O'Neil replacement bridge will close the northbound lanes of I-35 between 12th Street and I-70, pushing more traffic onto the rest of the downtown loop.

Downtown commuters will need to start making plans to change their driving pattern, as construction on a replacement for the Buck O’Neil Bridge shuts down segments of Kansas City’s downtown loop.

Northbound lanes of Interstate 35 between 12th Street and Interstate 70 will be closed starting in March to allow for construction of a replacement for the aging Buck O’Neil Memorial Bridge. Portions of the downtown loop will be closed for 10 months.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials say the changes will funnel more traffic onto Interstate 670 and U.S. Highway 71 until December as well as onto city streets.

The Buck O’Neil Bridge will remain open during this time.

MoDOT’s Deputy Project Director James Pflum said that drivers who need to navigate the changes can stay current using MoDOT’s social media or their web site.

“The biggest effect that we see is not so much where it’s at but when it is,” he said following a press conference Monday. “So the first couple of days after we put a detour in, those are normally where we see the most congestion.”

Construction will eventually connect northbound I-35 to northbound U.S. Highway 169. The lane closure will give crews access to build retaining walls, an additional lane on northbound I-35 and rehabilitate the bridge connecting northbound I-35 to I-70.

Pflum said the lane closures and other detours will also affect traffic in the West Bottoms and River Market. He said commuters will mostly see work on city streets south of the Missouri River including Third Street, Beardsley and Fourth Street.

“We’ll have new alignments going in,” Pflum said. “The city streets will look a little bit different.”

A map shows the downtown area of Kansas City and the major highways extending from it. A blue line shows the detour on I-670 for when the northbound lane of I-35 closes in March. A red line shows the part of I-35 that will be closed between 12th Street and I-70.
Missouri Department of Transportation
Starting in March the northbound lane of I-35 will be closed to traffic between 12th Street and I-70 to allow for construction related to the Buck O'Neil replacement bridge. The lanes will be closed through December. Officials are recommending commuters use I-670 as an alternate route.

Commuters can already see some columns and other support structures for the new bridge rising out of the Missouri River and the surrounding landscape. But Pflum says when the girders start to get set in place across the river — possibly as early as May — people will start to really take notice of the project's progress.

“People will be able to see the size and the scale direction that these bridges are gonna be taking as we start constructing them,” he said.

Mary Miller, the project director for the $220 million bridge design said the detours and construction won’t just affect people who use the current Buck O’Neil Bridge.

“It’s going to affect people that take I-670 because all of that traffic that used to be on the west side of the loop is now going to take 670,” she said. “So it will impact anyone that arrives within the downtown loop.”

Miller said that construction on the project has been slowed a little by historically low levels in the river. The depth right now is around five feet, which slows work because barges, where workers access the construction, get stuck on the bottom.

“It has been a bit of an impact because we have to dredge some of the sand out,” she said.

But Miller said the project is still on schedule.

When the project is finished, Pflum said, southbound commuters from the Northland would have their travel time cut in half.

“There may be only marginal increases (in efficiency) in some areas, but we’re improving infrastructure,” he said. “Other areas, we’re getting tremendous gains in terms of how commuters are traveling.”

In the meantime, he said, people are going to need to be patient and keep aware of changes and detours in the area as the first week of March nears.

“Even during construction, things should be fine,” Pflum said. “But we really want people to plan ahead, listen to media, and understand what work is coming.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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