MoDOT to Unsnarl Grandview Triangle

Tue January 07, 2003 - Midwest Edition
Richard Miller

More than 235,000 drivers per day figuratively are swallowed up by Kansas City’s most notorious interchange. U.S. 71, I-435 and I-470 converge on an area in southeastern Kansas City, the size of a small town, creating a traffic jam the locals call the Grandview Triangle.

Now the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) wants to change all that. In an aggressive plan that will cost $250 million and take up to 10 years to complete, MoDOT will replace the entire interchange. The result will be fewer accidents, reduced congestion and the elimination of a major bottleneck.

The improvements are much needed as portions of the existing interchange are long past their 20 year design life, such as sections of U.S. 71 highway, which are 40 years old.

The new construction will extend beyond the current confines of the interchange, west on I-435 to 103rd Street, north on I-435 to 87th Street and east to Blue Ridge Boulevard on both U.S. 71 and I-470. Seven other interchanges will be impacted by the new construction. In total, 22 new bridges will be constructed, including a new rail span for the Kansas City Southern Railway, and three temporary bridges. Despite the new bridge construction, the new interchange will have fewer bridges and reduced maintenance. On I-435 alone, three existing bridges will be replaced by one new bridge.

The complexities of this project have presented MoDOT with many challenges. Preliminary public hearings presented many modifications to the original design, but one of the major public concerns was to not create more traffic congestion as a result of the construction. It also was imperative that the job proceed as soon as possible because of the age of the interchange.

To meet these demands, MoDOT is utilizing a core team design process. According to Steve Hamadi, traffic engineer of MoDOT, the entire project has been divided into phases. The intent was to start the initial construction with as few constraints as possible, such as right-of way or environmental issues. This is accomplished by including all parties, such as the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), the contract design engineers, the Corps of Engineers and other agencies in the decision-making process.

One of the results of eliminating right-of-way and permit issues is the number of retaining walls constructed. When completed, the interchange will have more than 40 retaining walls.

Hamadi stated that a lot more preliminary work had to be performed before the first phase of construction commenced. Subsequent phase project permits were cleared and design was completed as construction proceeded on Phase I.

MoDOT was able to obtain a categorical environmental exception for the entire project. This was granted under the condition MoDOT provide additional environmental documentation and public outreach and that the new interchange would not be relocated.

In retrospect, according to Hamadi, MoDOT wound up doing more public interaction and environmental documentation than what would have been required with a full environmental impact statement. Hamadi contends this process was advantageous because it reduced design time by approximately one year and also netted MoDOT two national awards, one Governor’s award and three regional awards for public outreach.

Each construction phase has an independent utility, meaning upon completion the construction must improve the interchange. Completion and milestone incentives and penalties also are in place to motivate a contractor to finish its phase ahead of schedule. The first phase is expected to finish 10 to 12 months early.

In addition, MoDOT is requiring all prime contractors to meet monthly to report on their previous accomplishments and on their construction activity for the next 30 days. MoDOT uses this information to inform the public through its outreach program, which is especially beneficial when the public is informed of any future traffic delays.

Each construction phase must maintain the same number of traffic lanes during peak operating hours and also minimize closures.

MoDOT instituted the Motorist Assist Program in the Triangle to help clear accidents and help stranded motorists. Additionally, MoDOT and the Kansas City Police Department received federal approval for an experimental signage program within the Triangle. To date, this program has reduced emergency response time up to 15 minutes per incident, thus reducing congestion.

MoDOT worked closely with the FHA and other governmental agencies where approvals to proceed were needed. These agencies were included in many of the decision-making processes, thus reducing the approval time. Additionally, an advisory council was formed consisting of the project’s most vocal critics.

HNTB, of Kansas City, MO, is the design consultant for the roadway and preliminary bridge design. According to Hamadi, having the design firm perform the preliminary bridge design has decreased the department’s internal paperwork and improved communication between MODOT and its consultant.

The first phase contract, totaling $48.8 million, was awarded on February 16, 2001 to Clarkson Construction Company, of Kansas City, MO. This phase builds all new lanes for southbound to westbound I-435 and reconfigures the southbound ramps to southbound U.S. 71 and eastbound I-470. The change will separate the I-435 ramps from through traffic, eliminating the most accident-prone location in the interchange.

Phase I was to be completed by 2004, but because of good weather throughout the last winter, the project should be completed 10 months ahead of schedule, with parts of the new highway now open to traffic.

Phase II will incorporate changes to westbound I-470 and ramps from northbound U.S. 71 to I-470. This contract was let in April 2002, and again Clarkson Construction Company had the winning bid at $65.6 million. Construction began in June 2002 and is scheduled to open in mid-2004.

This construction will reclaim Hart Grove Creek by restoring the streambed near its original course and adding riffles, pools and eddies. Before the restoration is completed, toxic sites must be reclaimed. To date, two documented and one undocumented toxic sites have been cleaned up. Additionally, more than 200 tons (181 t) of tires, 2,700 tons (2449 t) of previously buried construction debris, nine underground fuel tanks and one buried bridge have been removed.

Incorporated in this second phase of this contract will be the construction of the Kansas City Scout Program, an intelligent transportation system (ITS).

When completed, the Kansas City Scout will focus on 75 mi. (121 km) of the region’s most congested highways, including the Grandview Triangle. With the assistance of video cameras, roadway sensors and a fiber optic network, Scout will monitor traffic conditions and clear up congestion faster.

“The Scout Program should decrease congestion by 20 percent through the Triangle. It’s almost like adding one additional lane of traffic to the highway,” Hamadi said.

Phase III construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2003. This construction will include rebuilding eastbound I-470, with new ramps to Red Bridge Road. Sound walls will be installed along the south side of I-435, east and west of Grandview Road, and along the north side of I-470, west of Blue Ridge Boulevard. Approximately 1 mi. (1.6 km) of sound walls will be installed when the entire project is completed.

A new $800,000 mass transit center also will be constructed northwest of Red Bridge Road as a part of Phase III construction. The center will include two bus shelters, a 250-vehicle lot and have direct connections to all three highways. The planned center will be both bicycle and wheelchair accessible.

The remaining phases will include the construction of an additional lane on westbound I-470, replacement of U.S. 71 from Red Bridge Road through I-435 to the Bruce R. Watkins Drive. The ramp from I-470 to northbound U.S. 71, and more than 2 mi. (3.2 km) of pedestrian bicycle paths also will be built.

Three historic pioneer trails, California, Sante Fe and Oregon traverse the interchange. Accordingly, local businesses, the city of Kansas City and MoDOT are working together to provide enhanced landscaping and works of art along the project based on pioneer themes, including native grasses, steel cutouts of a prairie schooner, bison and pioneers.

The tentative schedule for finishing the project is seven years, but according to MoDOT, current funding shortfalls could extend project completion to 10 years.

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