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After 3 years, Kansas City welcomes the first drivers over the new Buck O’Neil bridge

Exterior photo shows roadway construction atop large, T-shaped concrete supports. In background is a triple-arched bridge.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Buck O'Neil Bridge replacement project continues across the Missouri River. Officials say the project will be complete by the end of the year.

Northbound drivers will no longer use the old Buck O’Neil bridge and will instead cross the Missouri River on a completed section of the new one. Despite weather delays, MoDOT says the project remains on schedule and within its $258 million budget.

Starting Monday, drivers heading over the Missouri River will take a different Buck O’Neil Bridge for the first time since 1956.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has been designing and constructing the replacement bridge for three years. Southbound traffic has been closed at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport for the past year.

Now, northbound traffic will be moved off the old bridge and to the new one.

MoDOT said it will switch over traffic on January 29, sometime between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. The weather got in the way in weeks prior when bitter cold and precipitation prevented workers from painting the striping on the new bridge.

“In order for us to make this switch, we actually have to put our paint on the ground,” said James Pflum, MoDOT’s project director for the bridge. “We need that paint to stick. That's what we've been battling over these past couple of weeks — cold temperatures or wet weather.”

Northbound drivers on U.S. 169 will now make a slight left at Fifth Street and Broadway to cross the new bridge. Drivers on northbound I-35 should continue to exit at Broadway to go north on U.S. 169.

Exterior photo shows roadway with a car on it leading toward a triple-arched bridge at right. At left are steel girders forming the base of a bridge under construction.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Buck O'Neil Bridge replacement project continues at left while traffic travels north on 169 Highway across the existing Buck O'Neil Bridge on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The northbound lane of 169 Highway is scheduled to shut down to traffic on Monday, Jan. 29.

Despite the slight weather delays, Pflum is confident the project will remain on time and on budget. The new bridge should be completed by the end of the year.

“It's a kind of an exciting time where we're meeting our schedules and on budget,” Pflum said. “A lot of work has come to this moment. We're really happy to be here.”

The overall budget for the bridge project is almost $258 million. The nearly $220 million design-build contract — awarded to a joint venture of Massman Construction Company, Clarkson Construction Company, and HNTB Corporation — came from MoDOT, Kansas City and a BUILD federal grant.

Both new bridges are already standing, and after Monday’s switch, drivers won’t need to worry about more detours or road changes for about nine months.

During that time, crews will be completing the final construction of the project, like tying the bridges at both ends and connecting it to I-35.

But to do that, the north portion of the existing bridge must be demolished. The new southbound bridge will be used for northbound traffic until that’s done.

An empty roadway shows an exit sign and other directions for North and South Highway 169. The sign for 169 South has an orange "Closed" sign affixed to it.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The exit for State Highway 169 South near Parkville has been closed to traffic for a year.

Pflum says MoDOT has been working with Kansas City to save what they can of the old Buck O’Neil bridge. However, due to the size of the structure and the permitting required, not everything will make it.

“We are talking to KCMO about what we can do to maybe salvage part of it to be used in other locations around the city,” Pflum said.

Currently, there are no plans for what exactly will happen with the old bridge, but the city issued a request for proposals in late December of 2023 for a firm that would manage a bridge reuse program. The initiative would use steel from the demolished three-arch bridge and coordinate the installation of the eventual project.

Kansas City previously expressed interest in converting the old bridge into a linear park, but a feasibility study found that the project would cost double its initial estimate.

The project is expected to be completed in December of this year. MoDOT encourages drivers to look at its social media and project website for “planning ahead and paying attention.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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