I-229

The Interstate 229 double-deck bridge from the Missouri River looking toward Downtown St. Joseph is shown.

At some point, St. Joseph’s double-decker bridge went from being an engineering marvel to an eyesore.

It was easy, almost fashionable, to breezily declare a desire to demolish this structure and celebrate the aesthetic reunion of Downtown St. Joseph and the riverfront. Even high school students, in a summit on St. Joseph’s future, once suggested removal of the Interstate 229 bridge.

Oh, those pesky details.

One can feel the reluctance settling in as the city’s residents contemplate the realization that there’s only one chance to do this. A similar “uh-oh” undercurrent was evident at last week’s Democratic debate, as moderate candidates faced the reality that Medicare for All wasn’t just a talking point, it was a specific policy to try to run on and put into place.

At least if the elimination of private insurance is a disaster, the country could try to go back. Once the bridge is gone, it’s gone.

The public, in a vote on various scenarios for the I-229 bridge, seemed to side with keeping the double-decker structure and rehabilitating it. We agree, not necessarily with this specific option, but with the practical vision that the ultimate function of this bridge is not to create a pretty river view but to effectively route traffic Downtown and to the Stockyards district.

Retaining the bridge meets this core need, but at a significant maintenance cost.

The Missouri Department of Transportation floated multiple options, and none of them are perfect. Some local officials cultivated momentum to build another bridge to take traffic across the Missouri River to link up with U.S. Highway 36 in Kansas. That plan would open up the riverfront but at a tremendous financial cost, in addition to complications associated with construction in a conservation area.

Other preferred options, based on the public’s vote, included a single-deck, four-lane highway or a parkway/boulevard that removes the interstate designation but opens up the riverfront. Each project brings different strengths and weaknesses: cost, access to Downtown, views of the river and a need to acquire property for right-of-way.

It seems MoDOT is considering a rehab of the existing double-decker bridge and some version of a parkway/boulevard, as well as other designs that could be disclosed at a later date. A bridge to Kansas seems unlikely at this point.

A final decision will come from state and federal highway officials, which makes all that effort to collect public opinion seem a bit pointless. Was it all an exercise in futility?

We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, let’s hope for a final vision that takes into account the current utility of a structure that doesn’t look like much but still manages to carry 17,000 vehicles a day.