Committee votes against closing I-70/Manchester interchange

A Kansas City Council committee this morning came out against closing the Manchester interchange on I-70.

The Missouri Department of Transportation wants to close the interchange as part of a $32 million project to relieve congestion at the neighboring I-435/I-70 interchange to the east.

State highway engineers believe the interchanges are too close together, posing a potential safety threat with drivers weaving in and out as they try to enter and exit I-70.

The committee resolution calls on MoDOT to work with business owners near the Manchester interchange to find a way to keep it open. The resolution will go to the full City Council next week for approval.

It’s unclear just how much of an impact that Kansas City’s opposition will have on the project, which is funded partly with federal stimulus money that has to be spent by next March.

The Federal Highway Administration has to sign off on MoDOT’s plans, which will add a third through lane at the I-70/I-435 interchange in order to help improve traffic flow.

State highway officials are worried that Kansas City’s opposition could raise a flag at FHWA, which could require more work to be done on the project and subsequently push it up against the March deadline.

They said they still plan to proceed with the project “unless there is a significant reason to stop.”

They warned council members this morning that they might have to shift the money from I-70/I-435 to other projects, possibly the widening of Missouri 210 north of the Missouri River.

City Councilman Russ Johnson, chairman of the of the City Council’s transportation committee, acknowledged that MoDOT controls the interstate.

The resolution “expresses support for the business owners in the industrial area. What it may accomplish beyond that is anyone’s guess.”

Johnson encouraged MoDOT to try and find a creative way to keep the interchange open.

Beth Wright, MoDOT’s district engineer in Kansas City, said there is a system of ramps that could be designed to keep Manchester open while improving I-70 traffic flow, but that would cost roughly $53 million.

The business owners near Manchester say closing the interchange will suffocate their businesses. The closure could potentially limit interstate access to at least 40 businesses employing 1,000 people.

Councilwoman Jan Marcason said it seemed contradictory to use stimulus money to build a highway project that could potentially stifle economic growth.

Wright said MoDOT has plans to accommodate the 7,000 vehicles that use the Manchester Trafficway each day.

She said MoDOT wants to improve the interchange at U.S. 40/31st Street and at Manchester Trafficway and U.S. 40 to help compensate for the loss of the interchange.

They also plan to build a new half interchange at U.S. 40 and I-435 north of I-70.