MODOT to unveil plans for KC's new Paseo Bridge

Hold your breath, Kansas City.

You’re about to get a new landmark bridge that could define you for the 21st Century.

As much as the Golden Gate Bridge sets San Francisco apart or New York is linked with the Brooklyn Bridge, there is hope that a new Paseo Bridge will do the same for Kansas City.

Today, the Missouri highway department will roll out its plans for the 53-year-old Paseo Bridge, which will be replaced or upgraded as part of a project to widen I-29/35 from North Kansas City into downtown.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission will pick between two teams vying for the $245 million project. Their design plans, now locked up at MoDOT’s offices in Lee’s Summit, have been evaluated and will be revealed publicly for the first time today.

Community interest in the project runs high not just because of the short-term traffic inconveniences it will bring, but because of what it will mean for how people might view Kansas City.

“I hope the new bridge is extraordinarily beautiful and is something that ends up on a postcard someday,” said Steve McDowell, a principal with BNIM Architects.

Opened in 1954, the current bridge is a vital transportation link in the metro area, connecting 100,000 vehicles a day to thousands of jobs in North Kansas City and downtown.

Cutting through an industrial area served by rail, barges and trucks, this stretch of highway also plays a national role because it is part of 1,500-mile trade corridor extending from Minnesota to Texas.

But the Paseo Bridge is aging — it’s been shut down twice for rehab work since 2003 — and the interstate is so crammed with cars and trucks that it’s routinely highlighted on rush-hour traffic reports.

The traffic is only expected to get worse, increasing to 120,000 vehicles a day by 2030. And there’s no telling just how much life is left in the aging queen of Kansas City bridges.

So today, the highway commission will award a contract for widening the interstate and rebuilding or replacing the Paseo Bridge. The goal is to widen the interstate to three lanes in each direction from Missouri 210/Armour Road to the northeast corner of the downtown freeway loop with the possibility of going to four lanes someday.

It’s an eagerly awaited announcement because there’s so much still unknown about project, including what a new bridge might look like and whether it will close during construction. There are still worries about whether it will have a lane for bikes and pedestrians and how it will affect access to to the Paseo Industrial District where 75 businesses employ 3,000 people.

Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle Federation, sent a last-ditch letter to the highway commission last week, yet again pleading for consideration of a bike and pedestrian lane. He, too, is curious about the outcome.

“It’s been such a closed process, I don’t know what’s going on,” Hugh said. “I am completely in the dark.”

Many of the project details, like the bike lane, were determined outside the eyes of the general public because the state is using a different process from how most Missouri highways are built.

Missouri usually builds highways by designing the project, putting it out for public comment and then bidding it to a construction company. For the Paseo, the state wrapped the construction and design into one contract to get it done faster and cheaper.

Area residents were asked to comment about what they wanted to see in the project rather than get a chance to comment on specific project renderings and other details that might typically be available.

A dozen civic leaders, appointed by elected officials and community groups, have been advising the state on the project. The group also had a hand in scoring the project for the highway department.

Each of the proposals was graded on a scale of 1 to 100 with the top point-getter being recommended to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission for approval.

Each proposal will be assigned points in seven different categories, including traffic management and bridge aesthetics. The group of civic leaders controlled 20 of the 100 points when it evaluated the proposals for the appearance of the improved bridge.

Among other things, the panel was to judge the distinctive look of the bridge as well the view from the bridge because that affects the way people will see the city.

The process drew praise Tuesday from David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council, which coordinates transportation planning for the metro area.

Warm told the Missouri highway commission that the process has worked “exceptionally well,” adding that highway planners undertook a project that meets community expectations.

Warm had a chance to observe the process and said that MoDOT listened to extensive public comment and incorporated that input into the project specifications and the judging criteria.

Today, people in Kansas City will find out if their expectations are met.

Who’s bidding

A team led by American Bridge Company of Coraopolis, Pa. It includes Walsh Construction of Chicago, APAC-Kansas, Inc. of Overland Park, Ideker Inc. of St. Joseph, and URS.

A team led by Clarkson, Massman and Kiewit Western construction companies. Clarkson and Massman are based in Kansas City; Kiewit Western is based in Omaha. The team also includes Parsons Transportation Group of St. Louis and TranSystems Corp. of Kansas City.