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Examiner
  • Road opens valley to development

  • The Little Blue Parkway, decades in the making, is open for business.

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  • The Little Blue Parkway, decades in the making, is open for business.
    “I hope everybody enjoys this road. It’s going to be the future of Independence,” retired Judge Jack Gant said at a ceremony Wednesday signaling the opening of the last stretch of road, from Bundschu Road north to U.S. 24.
    Officials say the road opens up the valley of the Little Blue River – more than 30 square miles – that by some estimates could be the home of 20,000 people some day.
    “This is the beginning of a new Independence,” Mayor Don Reimal said.
    The project – the parkway from U.S. 40 north to U.S. 24 – cost about $55 million. Former U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Bond secured a large chunk of that, $31 million, several years ago. Congresswoman Karen McCarthy and her successor, Emanuel Cleaver II, also won funding.
    Some of the local matching funds have come from the city’s street sales tax and from tax-increment financing projects at Centerpoint Medical Center and the Eastland commercial development just west of Little Blue south of Interstate 70.
    Gant, who was a state senator for several years before becoming a judge, said he had been pushing for the road in one way or another for 45 years.
    “You know, roads are not glamorous. ... We take them for granted, but what would you do without them,” he said.
    It started in the 1960s with his efforts to create what is now the Little Blue Valley Sewer District.
    “You can’t develop an area unless you have utilities. You have to have sewers, and you have to have roads,” he said.
    Officials pressed ahead, Gant said. The idea was to get from the area near Interstates 70 and 470 to Front Street, running up through the Little Blue River valley and then west to Front Street – “and you don’t have a lot of stoplights,” he said.
    Gant stressed that the vision is not yet entirely fulfilled. Officials in Sugar Creek are pushing for a road from the northern edge of their city over to Front Street near Interstate 435, and, officials have said in the past, someday that stretch of road would be connected to the Little Blue Parkway.
    “This doesn’t finish what we’re working on because we said we’d get it to Sugar Creek,” Gant said.
    A coalition of local officials has pushed for the parkway for about two decades, and Gant singled out local resident Bob Reeds, business owner Jim Gamble and former Independence School District Superintendent David Rock.
    “We came together, and that’s what it takes. A partnership made this roadway,” Rock said.
    Reimal also pointed to the late Ron Stewart, who was mayor for 12 years.
    “He worked extraordinarily hard to get this project started,” Reimal said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Gant noted that other people and issues came along, too. In the mid-’70s, it was Barbara Potts – later to become an Independence City Council member, then mayor – pushing for a widening of Missouri 291 from two lanes to four. He was chairman of the Senate Roads and Highways Committee and pushed for it, too.
    “And lo and behold that happened quickly,” he said.
    Look at bustling and busy M-291 today, he said – to which Potts chimed in, “We need another lane.”
    Good roads, he said, are vital.
    “This area will be a future of Independence,” Gant said.
    Stan Shurmantine, chairman of the board of the Independence Chamber of Commerce, which also has long championed the roadway, said he’s been asking himself where this project ranks in the scheme of big developments in Independence over the years.
    “And I think I keep coming back to I-70,” he said.
    Look over the valley, he said, and imagine homes, businesses, churches and parks “because it’s all going to be here in the valley – a great life.”
     
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