I-229 bridges (copy)

The Missouri Department of Transportation is considering alternatives that would either refurbish or tear down the Interstate 229 bridge in Downtown St. Joseph.

We’ll say this about the the future of the Interstate 229 double-decker bridge.

State transportation officials can’t be accused of making a rushed decision, of leaping before they look. Discussion on the future of this structure began in earnest last year, with multiple public meetings and nearly 20 alternative plans unveiled for consideration.

Those scenarios were whittled to six, although only five seem destined to get serious consideration. One involves the $50 million renovation of the existing double-decker bridge, while four other alternatives would bring traffic through either existing Downtown streets or a new two-lane road or parkway extension. There’s even talk of a roundabout.

Those proposals were outlined earlier this month to a group of business and community leaders in St. Joseph. For a time, conversation on the future of I-229 seemed to center on construction of a new bridge to move traffic over the Missouri River into Kansas, then back to U.S. Highway 36 into Missouri.

This presented a pleasing scenario of having it all — four lanes to route freight and commercial traffic coupled with the removal of the existing concrete bridge that many considered to be unsightly and an obstacle to riverfront development. The problem is this new bridge concept was always unrealistic, with a massive price tag and impact on nearby conservation areas. Lengthy project delays were likely.

On a website devoted to I-229 options, the Missouri Department of Transportation stuck a new river bridge at the end of the list of possible scenarios, along with a proposal to do nothing and let the existing structure continue to deteriorate. Both are no-go plans as far as MoDOT is concerned.

The future will bring either a $50 million rehabilitation of the existing bridge or one of the options to use collector streets or new roads, all of which result in a partial or complete removal of the interstate designation through Downtown St. Joseph.

It’s time to warm up to an option that removes the I-229 bridge — refurbishment proves to be a costly and relatively short-lived proposition — as long as a future replacement is able to accommodate two core necessities: effectively routing freight to industrial areas south of Downtown and avoiding traffic bottlenecks in the Downtown area itself. It also would be worth looking at how a parkway or street replacement impacts the flow of traffic from U.S. Highway 36 to the Stockyards Expressway.

Momentum seems to be growing for a new solution to moving traffic on the city’s west side. Our advice is to be open to new scenarios but to look before you leap.