Lee’s Summit considers financing new interchange for U.S.50 and South Missouri 291

rpulley@lsjournal.comAugust 7, 2013 

Lee’s Summit is working toward a fix for traffic congestion at U.S. 50 and the south Missouri 291 highway intersection.

A conceptual, new $9.7 million interchange would include a roundabout on Jefferson Street and realign Oldham Parkway.

City Manager Steve Arbo reported to the council, at its meeting Aug. 1, that the Missouri Department of Transportation has a tentative design and cost estimate for the new interchange.

Arbo said MoDOT offered the design after previously suggesting repairing and improving the aging Jefferson Street Bridge, which is the access to U.S. 50 from Missouri 291, but he and Mayor Randy Rhoads met with the state officials to persuade them that wasn’t adequate.

The council by consensus authorized Arbo to continue working with MoDOT to find ways to finance the construction.

It’s an area with large tracts ready for redevelopment, left vacant by firms such as Pfizer and the Adesa auto auction which left the city.

The area at U.S. 50, Thompson and Persels roads has been congested for years.

Businesses in the area complain congestion even makes it impossible to schedule package deliveries in rush hours periods.

When the city debated approval of major shopping center there, to be called City Walk, one reason then-mayor Karen Messerli gave for her tie-breaking vote to reject the shopping center was traffic.

Missouri 291 travels along U.S. 50 for a leg between it southern route to Harrisonville and north to Independence and Interstate 70. Southbound traffic goes over the Jefferson Street bridge.

Arbo said evidence of the high volume can be seen during rush hours and weekends when travelers are headed to Missouri’s lakes region.

The Lee’s Summit Gateway Business Alliance, an organization of business executives whose companies collective employ thousands of Lee’s Summit residents is lobbying for a new interchange, and improvements also are supported by the Lee’s Summit School District, the Summit Christian Academy and University of Central Missouri, which might have a future campus in the area. The U.S. 50/ M291 intersection was one of the driving forces behind the alliance’s creation seven years ago.

Chip Moxley, co-chairman of the allliance and President of Tingle Flooring, said “I can wholeheartedly say that I was very pleased with the City Council’s support for funding a portion of a substantially improved U.S. 50/291 South interchange, including their request that the City staff explore various options that may be available to make this much needed improvement in Lee’s Summit. We feel this vital intersection could serve as a major gateway to further economic development in this area of Lee’s Summit.

The new design would serve longer-term development better, Arbo said.

Rhoads said MoDOT brought the design to the city.

“I think it works, it’s not pretty, but they don’t have a lot to work with,” Rhoads said.

Timing of construction is unknown, with the bridge being a lower priority for MoDOT compared to state-wide needs. MoDOT also would go through its normal process of getting public comments on the design, but Arbo said Lee’s Summit could use cost sharing with the state to move the project forward.

Arbo said the city could use local money in a 50-50 split to pay for the project which could move it higher on MoDOT’s priorities. The city possibly could fully finance the project and get reimbursed for the state share by MoDOT.

“We think we have a good opportunity to do this because of our good track record with MoDOT,” Arbo said.

Financial options include a no-tax-increase bond issue as early as 2017, a loan from other city funds or allocating some of the city’s general fund balance.

Councilmember Derek Holland said the city should consider using several funding mechanisms to get the project going sooner than 2017, perhaps using a transportation district.

“There’s a lot of business in that corridor that have a vested interest in this,” Holland said. “We can do this if we’ll be bold.”

Councilmember Kathy Hofmann said the Jefferson Bridge link is important to the vitality of downtown Lee’ Summit. She noted that development has been sluggish since an nationwide economic meltdown that started in 2008.

“Until we get this gateway done, we’re going to stay kind of dormant,” Hofmann said.

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