MoDOT plan to close Manchester Trafficway interchange upsets city leaders

A storm is brewing between Kansas City and the Missouri highway department over plans to close an I-70 interchange as part of a $27 million project to ease congestion near I- 435.

The City Council’s transportation committee heard from several business owners this morning who predicted a catastrophe if the Missouri Department of Transportation closes the interchange at Manchester Trafficway, which used to serve the old General Motors Leeds plant.

“If you people let MoDOT overrun this thing and close that interchange, you will be put Stadium Business Park out of business. It’s that simple,” said Bill Moulder, the park’s owner.

Other property owners shared similar stories with the committee, explaining how closing the interchange would suffocate their businesses and kill their investments.

The committee was poised to back a resolution this morning that called for opposing the closure of the interchange. But the committee delayed action for a week to give city staffers more time to work out some kind of compromise with MoDOT.

“We need to protect these businesses at all costs,” City Councilman Bill Skaggs said.

Skaggs said the city should go beyond a resolution, contacting the governor and the area’s congressional delegation. He noted that the governor makes appointments to the state highway commission.

MoDOT wants to close the Manchester interchange when it adds a third through lane on I-70 at the I-435 interchange.

Two through lanes are available now in each direction, but the third lane becomes an exit for I-435. Unwitting drivers squeeze back into the main traffic flow, causing slowdowns when the lane suddenly ends.

State highway engineers say the Manchester interchange is too close to the I-435 interchange, causing vehicles to weave in and out as they try to negotiate traffic between the two interchanges. The project does add a new half interchange on I-435 at U.S. 40 that could be used as an altenative. MoDOT also wants to improve the I-70 interchange at 31st Street/U.S. 40 to help offset the loss of access to and from Manchester.

MoDOT officials are concerned that the weaving caused by traffic mixing between the two interchanges raises a safety issue. They said the problem only worsens if the I-70 is widened because it means drivers will be cutting across more lanes of traffic to enter and leave the interstate.

The property owners, meanwhile, have hired their own engineer to evaluate the Manchester interchange and the potential safety problems it presents. The study concluded there was no empirical data showing that accidents are occurring because the interchanges are so close together, said Fuzzy White, the lawyer representing the business owners.

MoDOT is evaluating the property owners’ study, said Beth Wright, the district engineer for MoDOT’s office in Kansas City. She said there’s no commitment to closing the interchange.

“We’re still taking input,” Wright said. “If we saw sufficient evidence that we overlooked some things our minds could be changed.”

City staffers noted that MoDOT needs an agreement with Kansas City to work on the city’s property at that location. However, they cautioned that MoDOT could still potentially work around the city to get the project done.

City Councilwoman Melba Curls noted that some of the project is being funded with stimulus dollars. She warned that it could be possible for MoDOT to move that money elsewhere if it believes closing Manchester is an essential part of the I-435 project.

The 435 project is expected to begin early next year and be completed by 2012. The interchange could be closed in 2011 or 2012.