The new 155th Street and I-49 interchange will improve motor safety as well as increase job growth. Photo courtesy MoDOT.
South KC Perspectives
Long-Awaited 155th Street Improvements Gets Funding
By John Sharp
Funding from multiple public and private sources has finally come together to improve 155th Street on both sides of I-49, to rebuild the 155th Street/I-49 interchange and to construct a roundabout on the east side of the interchange.
These long awaited improvements will not only improve traffic flow and motorist safety, but will also open up hundreds of acres of vacant and underutilized land for development and job growth.
Councilman Scott Taylor said these improvements will have a tremendous economic impact that will spur more jobs and investment in south Kansas City.
“There is no question that south Kansas City will continue to be an economic engine for the entire city,” Taylor said.
The State’s Development Plan
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) plans to replace the current interchange and ramps with a very different design called a diverging diamond interchange which will shift 155th Street traffic onto the left side of the bridge over I-49 allowing uninterrupted left turns. This design is similar to the interchange at Botts Road and 150 Highway.
A roundabout will connect to the new interchange on the east side of I-49 allowing motorists to access the outer roads without waiting at a traffic signal.
Matt Killion, MoDOT Area Engineer, said his agency hopes to move up the construction schedule so all the interchange construction can be completed in 2017. He said MoDOT is acquiring right-of-way for the project, and the design is nearly complete.
He said the bridge will need to be closed for up to three months during construction, but he said the ramps will remain open during construction.
Killion said MoDOT plans to have a brick pattern on retaining walls and a decorative sign on the bridge and hopes to install black railings on top of the barriers on both sides of a trail over the bridge which will run between the east and westbound traffic lanes to approve its appearance.
Kansas City’s Development Plan
The Kansas City portion of the 155th Street improvements will run west from the interchange to the old Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base.
The city’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) that I serve on recently recommended approximately $900,000 from citywide funds for this project. Councilmen Kevin McManus and Scott Taylor also recently approved approximately $500,000 from 6th District PIAC funds for the project for a total of $1.4 million.
Under a 2008 agreement between ADESA Missouri, LLC, (the owner of the huge auto auction on the south side of 155th Street) and the Port Authority of Kansas City (now Port KC), ADESA is obligated for half these improvements on the west side of I-49.
Chad Thompson, Assistant City Engineer, said design work for these improvements is 80 to 90 percent complete, and the project should be ready to bid by May 1 when the city’s 2016-17 fiscal year begins and the city funding becomes available.
Thompson said the improved street will have four lanes with a small median, street lights on both sides, a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side and a 10-foot trail on the south side. He said the project will use concrete instead of asphalt where trucks going to and from the auto auction brake and turn.
Grandview/Belton’s Development Plan
Street improvements on the east side of I-49 also should be bid this summer, according to Grandview Public Works Director Dennis Randolph.
Randolph said the city is finishing right-of-way acquisition now and hopes to start construction by late summer or early fall and finish the project in the spring of 2017.
He said this part of the project will run east from the roundabout past Shalimar Park and will include three lanes, curbs and a sidewalk on one side and a trail on the other to match those features on the west side of I-49.
He said much of the cost of this part of the project is being paid for by federal funds, with Grandview and Belton splitting the local match.
Future MoDot Funding
The area is fortunate that the 155th Street interchange replacement was already on an approved list of projects, since MoDOT’s funding shortfall has restricted the agency to basically only funding maintenance work and no new unapproved projects to improve the system.
MoDOT suspended its popular cost-share program that provided matching funds to local communities for needed transportation projects that foster economic development in 2014, according to Stephen Miller, Chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, in his View from the Chair newsletter. Miller noted that Missouri now ranks 47th in the nation in funding per mile for state highways and bridges.
There may be some light at the end of the tunnel since the Missouri Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee has recommended passage of Senate Bill 623 which will raise the gas tax by 1.5 cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 3.5 cents. This bill, which is awaiting debate by the full Senate, would raise about $80 million annually, $56 million for the state highway system and $24 million to be split evenly between cities and counties, according to Miller.
Miller said the increase would cost a motorist who drives 10,000 miles a year and gets 20 miles to the gallon about 58 cents more per month or about $7 per year.
John Sharp is a former city councilman for the 6th District.