Road closures and reroutes. Colossal concrete columns. Soaring steel beams. Most of us have encountered the construction of the new Buck O’Neil Bridge first-hand, and there are a lot of feelings about it. The Missouri Department of Transportation recently announced US-169 will close to southbound traffic between the airport and 5th Street, creating a major detour.
With all this change, you’re probably wondering what’s actually happening on the ground (and in the air... and in the water)?
“We have two big goals,” MoDOT Deputy Director James Pflum said:
- “Replace the Missouri River bridge now that’s 60 years old, and get one in that will last 100 years.”
- "[Create] direct connections between 169 and I-35.”
James confirmed the project is still on track to finish in December 2024. Crews broke ground in June 2021, and as we approach halfway this spring, let’s take a look at some major upcoming milestones.
What will happen with the Buck O’Neil Bridge in 2023?
“For the first half of this year, it’s going to be hanging steel,” James said.
The foundations are set in the river, and the columns are up. That means the rest of the steel girders (which were produced in KCK) need to be placed.
“This year, they’re really going to see the southbound bridge [take shape] — all the way to the Harlem Circle,” he said.
The plan is to finish the southbound bridge by the end of the year and transfer northbound traffic onto the new bridge while the northbound bridge is getting built.
With big moves come big closures. In addition to the recently announced US-169 southbound closure, James said an additional I-35 southbound closure will be announced later this year.
“We appreciate everyone driving by and seeing the work and being patient,” he said. “In two years [...] everything will be a lot better.”
In March, MoDOT closed northbound I-35 from 12th Street to Broadway Boulevard to prepare for the new connections. Crews replaced a bridge, built three retaining walls, set new signage, and the closure ended on time
“We [also] completely replaced all the pavement and drainage,” James said, noting that drivers won’t have to worry about crumbling infrastructure in this section for a long time.
Past progress means upcoming milestones can remain on schedule — and there’s a lot slated for 2023.
How to build a bridge 101
Like a good friend, a bridge relies on a lot of support. That’s why the initial phases included installing a foundation in the river and building columns for the new connection ramps.
From there, steel beams connect the columns, and “formwork” gets built on top to shape the road and contain the concrete. Crews also tie together tens of thousands of reinforcing steel rods to create mats within the concrete.
Once the road is poured and hardened, additional formwork shapes the barriers. Then come the finishing touches like striping and signs. Developers also promised this bridge will include:
- A bike/pedestrian lane
- Access improvements at the downtown airport
- A scenic overlook with benches and murals featuring KC icons
Buck O’Neil Bridge project fast facts
What: Replacing the triple-arch design with one that will last longer and cost less in maintenance
When: June 2021-December 2024
Why: The current bridge opened in 1956 and is nearing the end of its lifespan
Cost: $220 million, procured by MoDOT and KCMO