Travelers who regularly utilize the Centennial Bridge spanning between Platte County, Mo. and Leavenworth County, Kan. could be faced with a toll to help fund a replacement structure.
The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) identified a need for a new bridge and continues to study the best location, type, costs, potential funding mechanisms and preliminary environmental impact of a replacement. Their data collection continued last week with a pair of open houses to engage the public in the process.
About 50 turned out to the first in Platte City on Wednesday, Jan. 14 and more than 100 signed in at the second held Thursday, Jan. 15 in Leavenworth, Kan.
Much of the discussion centered on turning the new bridge into a toll route. Currently in Phase 2 of this study, design and overall cost of the project is still being determined.
According to a KDOT study, average daily traffic for the Centennial Bridge is 13,989 vehicles.
“I think they did a good job trying to inform our community at the open house. Obviously, this is the beginning of a lengthy discussion,” Platte County second district commissioner Duane Soper said. “I’m concerned about the numbers they were using when considering tolling. This could have a negative effect on Platte County’s economy – housing, retail and to the bottom line of our citizens who work in Leavenworth.”
Constructed in 1955, the Centennial Bridge spans the Missouri River continuing on as K-92 Highway on the Kansas side and Route 92 in Missouri. This connects communities in northeast Kansas, including Leavenworth and Lansing, with Kansas City’s Northland, including Platte City and Kansas City International Airport.
The bridge is jointly owned by the Kansas and Missouri Departments of Transportation.
Currently, the structure is a narrow, two-lane roadway without shoulders. According to KDOT, improvements along K-92 in Kansas and Route 92 in Missouri are necessary to safely accommodate the increased traffic volumes in the area since the original construction.
The Centennial Bridge underwent a rehabilitation project in 2011, including improvements to bridge piers, drainage, bearings and other structural components to extend its life while a plan for replacing the bridge could be developed.
KDOT has approximately $2.9 billion in projected annual transportation needs, but only $1.4 billion in projected annual revenue. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) released a report this week on its own budget shortfalls, making funding scarce for large structure replacements.
“The KCI-Platte City-Leavenworth link is important enough to both states and to the federal government that improving that link is worthy of dedicated funding,” Platte City mayor Frank Offutt said. “Platte City views current planning and funding discussion as a means toward increasing project visibility and moving the Centennial Bridge higher on state and federal priority lists rather than an endorsement of a particular funding source.”
A revenue study determines how much funding can be generated by tolling. Potential toll revenues are one of several factors that the financial community and bond rating agencies would use to assess the project.
Currently, 31 states, including Kansas and Missouri, along with the District of Columbia, have or are planning toll roads. Portions of Interstate 70 in Kansas are tolled, and a recent study has been planned to consider the same in Missouri.
Proponents of tolling tout it as a fair way of charging only drivers who use a particular facility in direct relation to their frequency of use. The projected funds can also be used to back revenue bonds, which can be issued to accelerate the construction process.
The bridge likely wouldn’t be tolled until the new structure is built, tentatively slated to be opened in 2022 according to an outline of the four-phase project.
The tolling process could be similar to methods used in Colorado and California with either a dedicated electronic tag purchased for frequent users or license plate scanners are used to bill more infrequent travelers. While there could be “leakage,” or uncollected funds, the tolls could be used for an undefined period to not only pay for the structure but upkeep maintenance.
However, some visitors to the open house questioned the idea of tolling the bridge now and collecting the necessary money.
“According to the experts, the Centennial Bridge is in no imminent danger of falling down, but the outmoded structure is harder and harder to maintain,” Platte County first district commissioner Beverlee Roper said. “As a fiscal conservative it makes sense to toll the current bridge now and save the money in a lock box protected from politicians.”
This process could be complicated by the current setup of the roads on either side of the bridge.
In Leavenworth, Kan., K-92/Metropolitan Avenue is an urban arterial with posted speed limits at 35 mph and featuring curb, gutter and sidewalk. In Platte County, Mo., Route 92 changes to a rural highway with speeds posted at 55 mph with a shoulder and an open ditch.
If the project moves beyond the current phase, more detailed development of plans will also be needed.
With studies anticipating traffic to increase from its current volume up to 20,000 motorists per day, KDOT and MoDOT need to consider improvements to address congestion issues, including lane balancing for determining the distance the four lanes should extend from the bridge into Missouri. They also must pick an alignment option, including locating the new structure on the north or south side of the existing bridge.
Bicycle and pedestrian accommodations will also be considered.
Independent of the river crossing location, the bridge design requires coordination with several other factors including streets that pass underneath the bridge, a railroad line along the west bank of the Missouri River, freight navigational clearance for barge traffic on the Missouri River, an aviation approach path to Sherman Army Airfield, utilities on and adjacent to the bridge, a levee along the east bank of the Missouri River and abandoned mine shafts west of the Missouri River.
Preliminary information from KDOT suggests the current structure would likely be demolished.
“While the Centennial Bridge remains structurally sound and could continue as such with maintenance, the lateral and vertical obstructions of the bridge design type make the existing bridge functionally obsolete. Reuse of the bridge for vehicular traffic is significantly constrained, and the replacement bridge alternatives under consideration do not include keeping the existing bridge.”