Those longer drive times Interstate 470 motorists in Jackson County have dealt with many times over the past few months – they might as well get used to them.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is in the midst of a large rehabilitation project for the I-470 bridges between the Grandview Triangle – the interchange with I-435 and I-49/U.S. 71 – and Interstate 70 in Independence. It will last through the 2018 construction season.
Currently, MoDOT and contracted crews are working on the I-470 westbound lanes for the bridges over Cedar Creek, View High Drive and the Little Blue River. That project started recently and will last through mid-November. During that time westbound traffic has been shifted over to the eastbound lanes. Only two lanes of traffic with narrow shoulders are available each way for a span of about a mile.
After breaking for the winter, crews will do the opposite in the spring – all traffic will be on the westbound side while the eastbound bridges receive work. With the Cedar Creek and Little Blue bridges, the full bridge decks are being replaced.
During a recent media tour of bridge work on westbound I-470, MoDOT engineer Jacob Wilson explained the need for such extensive work – and the ensuing traffic hassle.
“This stretch of highway hasn't been worked on for awhile,” Wilson said. “To keep this road going, we have to shift traffic.”
Many of the I-470 bridges were constructed in the 1960s and have reached or are near the end of their useful life, MoDOT says, and that stretch of highway takes on at least 60,000 vehicles per day.
“This work is necessary to get these bridges repaired so that they can handle traffic for 20 or 30 more years,” Wilson said, “which is what we want to do to serve the communities along this route.”
Earlier this year, MoDOT worked on the Raytown Road bridge above I-470, as well as the Colbern Road bridges where I-470 and Missouri 291 split.
Other I-470 bridges part of the two-year project include:
• Kansas City Southern Railroad
• Blue Ridge Boulevard
• Bowlin Road and Lakewood Boulevard
• Little Blue River
• U.S. 40
• I-70 interchange
Only the Little Blue and Cedar Creek bridges require a full deck replacement. Other bridges require work such as pavement repairs or resurfacing, joint repairs and guardrails.
Wilson said MoDOT wants to have the I-470 work done before it begins the second phase of work for the I-70/435 interchange that will likely cause some traffic diversion, as well as work on I-435 between the Triangle and the Kansas border.
The I-470 bridge project involves work that simply can't be done in overnight shifts, and just because there are no workers on hand doesn't mean there's no progress, Wilson explained. Re-decking a bridge obviously takes time, and concrete curing and asphalt cooling are waiting games.
Weather also can throw off some construction schedules, he said, even beyond the normal rainstorms. With some bridge decks, the steel girders hadn't experienced sunlight in 30 years, and when temperatures reached above 80 degrees during the day, the steel could get well above 100 degrees and start to fold from expansion.
During the current project – and future ones – Wilson urges motorists to plan ahead. He also encourages them to use the zipper merge system at merging point for a construction zone, rather than lining up far behind a merging point.
“Leave early, and check online if you can to see what alternate routes are available,” he said. “Be friendly, be patient.”