#PleasureInfrastructure | Kaw River Bridge

Posted on December 19th, 2017 at 11:59 am by


Since its initial construction in the 1880s, the Kaw River Bridge served as essential infrastructure in the growth and expansion of Kansas City’s bi-state economy. In 1987, over 100 years since its construction, the City of Kansas City, Missouri acquired the title to the bridge, easements and related property near the former Kansas City Stockyards as part of land assembly to provide additional parking for Kemper Arena. As part of the negotiation of title, the Kaw Valley Drainage District permanently lifted the entire bridge into a locked, open configuration. Fast forward another 30 years to April, 2017 when Wyandotte County hired el dorado to complete an engineering assessment and high level conceptual design of alternative uses for the bridge.

For six months, our team focused on engineering feasibility, community engagement and improvement, trail development and connectivity, and conceptual design explorations and an implementation plan. With events and meetings taking place on both sides of the State Line, there was and continues to be, shared purpose and benefit.

As a way for us to become familiar with the bridge and the ecosystem surrounding it, the design team and client group took a riverboat tour the Kaw River. Viewing the bridge and surrounding context gave the client group and el dorado a more holistic, respectful view of the environment.

Next, we set up a booth at Levee Fest, a day of food, community, and activities to bring awareness to the ongoing efforts to expand the levee trail. Engaging with the public, we posed a simple question, “How could the abandoned bridge directly across from Kemper Arena become a landmark destination and bike trail connection?” Numerous programs and uses for the bridge were discussed, with most participants suggesting the most appropriate way to rehabilitate the bridge is for it to become a bike and pedestrian connector.

In June, public meetings were held near and immediately adjacent to the Kaw River Bridge. The first public meeting introduced the goals and intentions of the project, the history of the bridge and adjacent neighborhoods, infrastructure and connections that exist today, precedent studies to illustrate comparable projects in other places, and the potential economic impacts that a project like this can have. Other public meeting focused on clarifying the goals of the project and the feasibility study.

We then developed five goals for the Kaw River Bridge:

–Improve public health by increasing active transportation and recreational opportunities.
–Increase multi-modal transportation options.
–Improve connectivity to adjacent jurisdictions.
–Improve quality of life and attract new residents to the urban core.
–Enhance environmental quality and improve access to regional environmental assets, such as the Kansas River.

After reviewing precedent studies and taking into context the public engagement comments, site conditions, and the bridge structural analysis we developed a three phase design concept for the Kaw River Bridge. Mostly due to logistics and funding, the project is envisioned to be a multi-phase endeavor.

Phase 1 is focused on establishing a 10-foot wide bike and pedestrian connectivity across the Kansas River, with an important passive break area roughly mid-span. We proposed that a passive space is critical in this phase. This passive space, an observation deck placed between two of the structural spans, is not only a place for resting, but also a place to learn about the river and bridge while enjoying views in all directions. It is anticipated that this phase of work would be funded entirely through public sources

Phase 2 sets the groundwork for a commercial endeavor on the bridge. A portion of the trail constructed in Phase 1 will need to be demolished to allow for the improvements in this phase. An amenity platform provides opportunity to host seasonal events and will initiate the process of creating an image of the bridge as a cultural and event destination This phase is likely to be funded by a mix of public and private sources.

Phase 3 is entirely focused on the addition of an enclosed structure on the bridge and related infrastructure, building upon the amenity platform constructed in Phase 2. This ensures the commercial enterprise on the bridge is viable year-round. Due to the commercial nature of the on-bridge enterprise, this phase is anticipated to be funded entirely by private sources.

The biggest opportunity for the Kaw River Bridge, and the reason we enjoyed developing this feasibility study, is that activating this space into a usable place, it can then function simultaneously as a transportation link, recreational trail, and educational/ amenity center—namely pleasurable infrastructure.

A full collaborative report will be published soon. Stay tuned for details.