By LESLIE COLLINS
February 13, 2013
Proposed improvements along the I-70 corridor are causing concern among Northeast residents. One alternative closes so many access points to I-70 that it isolates Northeast from the rest of the city and surrounding areas.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) began conducting an environmental study in 2011, which spans approximately seven miles of I-70 from The Paseo Interchange to the Blue Ridge Cutoff. The study will conclude in the spring of 2014 and aims to improve the traffic flow and congestion of I-70 and remedy merging and weaving issues at interchanges. In addition, the study aims to improve safety conditions of that section of I-70, which currently has deteriorating pavement and bridges. Thanks to public input, MoDOT whittled down 12 alternatives to three, which include: 1.) No-build: perform maintenance projects as needed and projects that are already committed; 2.) Geometric Improvements: incorporates the No-build Alternative with improvements geared toward improving engineering issues in the corridor, like tight curves, short ramp lengths and weave areas; 3.) Interchange Consolidations: incorporates the Geometric Improvements Alternative and consolidates closely spaced interchanges.
The third option is causing the most unease among Northeast residents.
Option three would close the Brooklyn Avenue interchange, remove the Benton Boulevard access to I-70, close the Truman Road interchange, and close the 18th Street interchange and add a connection to 23rd Street. Ramp connections to local roads at Prospect, Montgall, East 18th and Agnes would also close, among others. Auxiliary lanes between The Paseo and Prospect would be added and the Benton/Jackson curve would be improved by lessening the sharpness of the curve.
“If we were to build this stretch of I-70 to today’s standards, we’d like to have a one-mile spacing between the interchanges,” said MoDOT Project Manager Allan Zafft. “A lot of these ramps are short on the off-ramps and we’d like to make them longer to today’s standards, to give drivers more time to accelerate and get on and off the ramp.
“It’s difficult for us to lengthen interchanges with ramps closely spaced. Closing interchanges will allow us to do that and improve the weave areas between interchanges.”
Lee Lambert, vice-president of the Independence Plaza Council Neighborhood, admits that some of the ramps can be difficult to navigate, especially if drivers aren’t paying attention.
“I could see them redesigning it a little,” Lambert said. “But, getting rid of the access and cutting down any entry into the Northeast is not a good idea in my opinion.”
Eliminating that many interstate access points could inhibit police, ambulance and fire department response times, he said. While there are fire stations located within the Northeast area, there’s still the issue of transporting patients to hospitals outside of Northeast, he said. “It would be harder for them (ambulances) to get out (of Northeast),” Lambert said. “The roads would be more congested. With all the shootings we’ve had and homicides in the Northeast, the one thing we don’t need to curtail is the police being able to move back and forth.”
Benton, Truman, Brooklyn and The Paseo are all major north and south roads leading into Northeast, said Christy Maddux, vice-president of the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association. To gain access to I-70, residents would then most likely travel along Independence Avenue, a highly traveled road not equipped for handling that much additional traffic, Maddux said.
“I’m very upset about this proposal and deeply concerned about the future of an area I care about,” Maddux said.
Nixing the Benton Boulevard access point and Truman Road interchange would eliminate direct access to tourist attractions like the Kansas City Museum and the Cliff Drive Scenic Byway, said Scarritt Renaissance Neighborhood Association President Leslie Caplan. In addition, closing that many interchanges limits the “quick and easy” access to Independence Avenue and the Lykins, Indian Mound, Scarritt and Independence Plaza neighborhoods, she said.
“One of the reasons they’re thinking about this is smoother traffic flow to and from downtown, but I don’t see where those exits have any impact on downtown,” Caplan said. “They’re very easy exits. It’s not like there’s tons of people backed up onto the interstate trying to exit there.”
Indian Mound Neighborhood Association President Katie Greer said the proposed alternative would hinder both residents and visitors in entering and exiting Northeast. Greer said she worries easing the traffic flow would encourage both additional traffic and individuals to relocate to the suburbs.
“Anyway you look at it, if they start closing any of the off ramps, it’s really going to affect us dramatically,” said Tom Ribera, president of the Independence Plaza Council Neighborhood. “It’s going to affect development here because if you eliminate access to your community, people are not going to want to come in here and invest.”
The alternative would isolate Northeast, making it easier for traffic to bypass Northeast altogether, he said. Although Northeast is a prime location just minutes from downtown, developers will look elsewhere to invest if there’s not adequate highway access, he said.
“Without development, you’re going to die, become stagnant and not grow,” Ribera said.
It’s a recipe for small business death knoll, Caplan said.
Zafft said MoDOT conducted preliminary traffic studies of the proposed alternatives and will soon conduct a complete traffic study, which looks at the environmental impact and manmade impact. Manmade impact evaluates how residents, homes and businesses would be impacted by the changes.
MoDOT is continuing to meet with neighborhood organizations and wants public feedback. That feedback, along with the traffic studies, will help MoDOT choose an alternative. A number of Northeast residents are favoring the No-build Alternative.
“We really want to hear what the public feels about these proposals,” Zafft said. “Once we get this input and finish our traffic analysis, we’ll make adjustments to these alternatives.”
The chosen alternative will be presented to the public this summer, he said.
“There is currently no funding for design and construction,” Zafft said. “But completing this study is an important step in having the project ready to go should funding become available.”
Ribera said it’s time for Northeast residents to mobilize and share their input with MoDOT.
“You’ve got to take all these things into consideration,” Ribera said. “It’s more than just an off-ramp or a shortcut to get home quicker. It’s for growth, expanding businesses; it’s for the future.”
Share your input with MoDOT
Feedback due Feb. 25
Upcoming public meetings:
•Feb. 19 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Linwood Family YMCA, 3800 E. Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
•Feb. 21 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., Kansas City VA Medical Center, 4801 Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.
Share feedback online at http://www.metroi70.com. Also, send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more, visit www.modot.org/kansascity/metroi70