The End of Blue River Road?

Today from 4:30 – 6:00 the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee will be meeting. One of the items to be discussed is Blue River Road. Michael Shaw, Public Works Director, has said Blue River Road should be a bikeway because it would be too expensive to open again to vehicular traffic. Might that influence what the committee decides?

Aside from any biases that may be at play in the Public Works department, there are several other reasons we may never have that road again.

Blue River Road closures occur in both the fifth and sixth councilmatic districts. While I haven’t spoken with fifth district representatives, i.e. Councilwoman Ryanna Parks-Shaw, wife of the Public Works Director, and Lee Barnes, I have spoken with Councilwoman Bough. Her response was that the city was $1M short of needed funds, so the project was taken off the table; though Mr. Shaw denies knowing anything about that figure.

The first portion was closed in 2010 – over a decade ago; yet, nothing has been done to restore it. There have been rumors of turning Blue River Road into a bikeway for quite some time even while, in 2019, according to the Martin City Telegraph, “An additional section of Blue River Rd. … has been barricaded and closed to all traffic due to the worsening condition of the road’s subsurface. The city has started the process of designing reconstruction of the road and is awaiting funding from the U.S. Corps of Engineers for its portion of designing stabilization of the river bank.”

We have to wonder about that last sentence. Similar remarks were made about the first closed section. So the City spent money, has had PIAC money approved for the project, could have had GO Bond money; yet, the best they can do now is turn it into a bikeway.

Could there possibly be a bit of an EQUITY issue here?

One of the City’s current projects is the realignment of Lee’s Summit Road from NW Anderson Drive to NW Lakewood Blvd. Notice this is a realignment of a currently useful road. However, that’s not all of it. Also included in the plan are: a widened roadway, multi-use trail and bike lanes, retaining walls and new sidewalks. The people are also being furnished with new concrete driveway approaches, new storm sewers and street lights. This project will cost $9.3 million. The project is being funded by GO Bonds; our tax dollars at work.

Of course we all remember when the city bought the shopping center at 103rd and Wornall and then tore everything down. Again, from The Telegraph: “The City Council on September 20 authorized the City Director of Public Works to purchase the 3.25 acre flood prone 103 Square commercial area including three now vacant buildings that once housed the popular Coach’s Bar & Grill and several other businesses for approximately $1.8 million.” According to Kevin McManus, by doing so, a “community challenge was turned into an asset”. He also suggested that in the future the area would be integrated into the city’s park system and the trail system. Perhaps he doesn’t realize Blue River Road is already part that park system.

It can’t all be placed at the feet of our council persons for not fighting for us. As the city was discussing projects to be paid for from the GO bonds in preparation for passing the budget, our mayor seemed to think Blue River Road was a “curious priority” for the sixth district and was partially responsible for its removal from the funding process.

This after saying on KMBC 9 News on 7/15: “One of the basics that we’re supposed to provide is good infrastructure; good infrastructure in every neighborhood so you can get to work; so you can make sure you’re taking care of your family safely.”

Once again those of us living east of Holmes lose out. One has to wonder where else in Kansas City the powers that be would let this happen.

The Telegraph pointed out that it is difficult now to get to and from the Dodson area and Labconco Corporation. The city also seems to be very proud of the new Blue River Commerce Center, formally known as the Bannister Federal Complex, which is projected to bring 1,500 permanent jobs to the area. Perhaps some of those would use Blue River Road if given the chance.

Then there’s just plain IDIOCY. Public Works says there’s not enough traffic to justify the expense. When was the last traffic study done? Before or after the first closure? Blue River Road could also take some traffic off Holmes and Wornall Roads. Then the City wouldn’t be spending years and good tax dollars to provide a quicker commute to the highway on Red Bridge Road–a project which was opposed by neighbors in the area. The City’s reasoning (excuse) was that traffic gets backed up at Wornall. (The plans for widening were drawn up before I-435 was widened and it was full steam ahead regardless). Now they’re talking about widening Holmes. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best; but perhaps not if you’re our City or our elected representatives who care more about campaign contributions from developers.

There is one other, much older and much sadder area of blame. There was an article written back in 2004 by Tom Leathers talking about three reservoirs that should have been built south of College Boulevard, but Leawood opted for “miles of concrete and asphalt” instead. Those reservoirs “would have protected…the Missouri side all the way into the Country Club Plaza.” Instead “flood waters rush out of Indian Creek, Tomahawk Creek, the Blue River and the tributaries”. “The lakes…would have turned Johnson County into a premier area for recreation.

It was a difficult time, Kansas City having recently gone through race riots; “many were fearful of integration and … its effect on the real estate”. Many thought the Lakes would bring an influx of minorities, “streaming into Leawood in their trucks to fish”. And so developers and members of the Home Builders Association, people like the Kroh Bros. and J.C. Nichols led the opposition. That opposition was strong and so today we have a flooded out road caused by their bigotry and lack of foresight.

I believe our Public Works director actually has a copy of the article, but apparently sees no reason to use the information. The Mayor believes in reparations. I am not here to agree or disagree with that stance; but to say it can be a two way street. Our problems started in Kansas; perhaps our remedy should be there also.