Michael Bushnell

The Independence Avenue Bridge project that partnered the City’s Public Works Department with Kansas City Terminal Railway to develop a new early warning system in an attempt to keep inattentive truck drivers from getting stuck under the 12-foot, century old Independence Avenue railroad bridge, is itself stuck somewhere between the design and bid phase according to City project documents.

Back in December 2022, the City announced a funding partnership with the railroad to develop an early warning device to keep trucks from getting stuck under the bridge. The devices consist of an extended cross arm over the traffic right-of-way with long, plastic cylinders hanging on chains at the height of the low clearance bridge. The dangling cylinders are designed to strike the front part of any over-height vehicle, making enough noise to alarm the driver in time to stop prior to striking the bridge.

“The Independence Avenue Bridge is owned and maintained by the Kansas City Terminal Railroad,” Kansas City Press Secretary Sherae Honeycutt told the Northeast News. “They are responsible for not only the bridge, but any signs related to clearance. However, we are working with the Kansas City Terminal Railroad on a plan to install a clearance curtain ahead of the bridge entrance. The City and KCTR are looking to identify funding for this project. The project is estimated to cost $150,000 to put a curtain in each direction. The Kansas City Terminal Railroad has agreed to split the cost 50/50.”

Similar devices are being used in San Antonio, Texas, and Seattle, Wash., and have been relatively successful in quelling bridge strikes.

The City will allocate funding from the 3rd & 4th District Public Improvement Advisory Committee, according to Honeycutt.

“KCTR will contribute $56,000 toward the project, and PIAC dollars will also be used for the project,” she continued. “Currently, $30,000 from both districts, $60,000 in total, is agreed upon for the clearance curtain. The curtain will demonstrate maximum height for drivers. The City is awaiting a final estimate and possible installation date.”

This project began in 2018 when PIAC funding was used for a study on the Independence Avenue Bridge and the challenges surrounding it, Honeycutt said.

This was made possible by the Public Works Department, City leadership, current City Council members and former Mayor Pro-tem and 4th District Councilman Scott Wagner with Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT). Wagner in his time on the City Council pushed the project forward and made it a priority, Honeycutt added.

Due to the placement of the traffic light, the curtain in the eastbound direction will be placed in front of the light. Trucks who hit the curtain should use a detour.

Since The Northeast News reported that story on December 22, few updates have been forthcoming on progress, design or when the project would break ground.

According to the City’s Compass website, the construction phase of the project was from March 4 to July 4 of this year, pushed back from initial estimates of a first quarter 2023 completion date. As of last Friday, the bridge and its approaches remained untouched and Compass indicated the project was still in the design phase.

After three truck strikes over an eight day timespan in mid-July, The Northeast News reached out again to the City looking for a status report. Despite the truck strike spike, there is still no start date for the project.

“We are currently waiting on a final estimate from the contractor and hope to have a start date soon,” Honeycutt said via email earlier this month.

The clock, however, is ticking. The City’s one-year agreement with Kansas City Terminal Railway was executed on September 9, 2022, which means matching funding could be lost if the project isn’t completed by the September 9, 2023 deadline.

“The Cooperation Agreement was executed September 9, 2022,” said Shawn Lauby, Director of Safety and Administration for the railroad. “KCT continues to stand ready to contribute our portion of the costs pending project completion by the City.”

The Northeast News will continue to monitor the project and will publish an update when or if it becomes unstuck.