Transportation summit examines Northland road, highway options

The Clay County Economic Development Council sponsored a Transportation Summit Nov. 22 that drew over 50 people to the William Jewell College campus. Those on the panel discussion included (from left) Ron Achelpohl, director of the Transportation and Environment Department for the Mid-America Regional Council; Valerie McCaw, VSM Engineering and chair elect of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce; Jerry Nolte, Clay County Presiding Commissioner; Patrick McKenna, director, Missouri Department of Transportation; and U.S. Congressman Sam Graves.

New federal and state funding combined with changing Northland road and highway needs were major topics during a Transportation Summit organized by the Clay County Economic Development Council.

Held in the William Jewell College Yates-Gill Union in November, the event drew a packed room. A panel of local, state and national leaders first outlined the availability of new funding thanks to the recently passed federal infrastructure bill and earlier voter approval of increases in the Missouri gasoline tax.

The panel featured U.S. Congressman Sam Graves; Patrick McKenna, director, Missouri Department of Transportation; Ron Achelpohl, director of the Transportation and Environment Department for the Mid-America Regional Council; Valerie McCaw, VSM Engineering and chair elect of the Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce; and Jerry Nolte, Clay County presiding commissioner.

Graves opened the discussion by noting disagreement on the federal plan such as extensive mass transportation and nontraditional infrastructure. He said the approved work should proceed, however.

“It’s passed, and now it’s the law of the land,” Graves noted. “And there are a lot of projects like bridges. They’re going to be good for everybody.”

Although many details remain undecided, a consensus was evident that critical Northland improvements would be among the earliest targets. These include Missouri Highways 92 and 291/Cookingham Drive and the Interstate 29 and 35 split. None will happen immediately, however.

“You can’t go through all of these things at once,” said MoDOT’s McKenna. “They will take time.”

However, he noted that officials have anticipated the potential funding and are “ready to hit the ground running.”

Several said that smaller roads also need attention.

“We need to be working on the smaller projects, too,” Nolte added. “If we don’t pay attention to these roads, we’ll be in trouble.”

Panelists commented on a high level of cooperation that’s existed between officials in both Clay and Platte counties and the region’s cities.

“There’s a lot of collaboration and cooperation on a wide variety of projects and goals,” said the Northland Chamber’s McCaw.

That cooperation was already evident in an existing project, replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge. The recently launched construction is under way because cities throughout the region postponed other projects in order to contribute to the local match for the strategic bridge over the Missouri River.

“The Buck O’Neil bridge project has seen amazing cooperation,” McKenna said.

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