I-229

A possible study being sought by the St. Joseph Metropolitan Planning Organization could tie in to the future of the Interstate 229 double-deck bridge.

Maybe a public vote isn’t the best way to build a bridge.

The average taxpayer should have a voice in the future of the Interstate 229 bridge, but those with an engineering background or other technical expertise can’t be ignored. Things like cost, traffic flow and design safety aren’t mere trifles. We get that.

But here’s the thing about the debate on this bridge’s future: They asked us.

We’ve all attended those public gatherings with colorful designs displayed on poster board. We’ve all looked at a concept for a school, a shopping center, a bridge or a riverfront extravaganza and thought, ‘Sure, why not?’”

But a slick presentation often leaves the viewer with lingering doubts about whether it’s all just for show. We’ve all asked ourselves, “Are they really listening to us or just checking the public input box?”

Some community members may have felt this way after exercising an opportunity to rate 20 or so plans for the future of the I-229 bridge on the west side of St. Joseph.

Recently, members of St. Joseph’s Metropolitan Planning Organization stood up for anyone who’s ever shouted an opinion into a bureaucratic black hole. The organization’s decision not to endorse declassification of the double-decker’s interstate status might not change the ultimate outcome, but it applies brakes on what appears to be a Missouri Department of Transportation steamroller.

Given a chance to comment earlier this year, the public preferred rehabilitation of the two-deck structure above all others. MoDOT is learning toward final alternatives that would remove the double-decker bridge in Downtown St. Joseph in favor of a simple highway or roadway. Most likely, this wouldn’t be part of the interstate.

The MPO appeared reluctant to write a letter of support for MoDOT’s preferences without getting more information on how state highway officials settled on these two plans. This reasonable stance might amount a bump in the road, but we hope it transforms an oblique decision-making process into something more straightforward.

MoDOT and federal transportation authorities might have good reason to oppose the rehabilitation of the existing bridge in favor of some other design scenario that’s more enduring, more practical and less costly in the long run. Then they should say that, unequivocally, rather than stringing people along or burying a preference in government reports or presentations.

A good rule of thumb is to never ask for someone’s advice unless you actually want to hear it. Otherwise, it does seem like you’re checking the box, with little regard for what outsiders actually have to say.