Reader Tom Decock was curious about how the interstate highway system was integrated into the Kansas City urban landscape. As the downtown loop approaches its 50th anniversary in 2022, "What is your KCQ?" Decided to investigate.
The KCQ partnership between The Star and the Kansas City Public Library is here to answer readers' questions about our region.
Although easy to criticize the loop, it's also hard to imagine how far we would go without it. It is only about four miles long, but occupies more than 100 blocks from downtown. So how did we get to this type of infrastructure so often criticized and frequently used?
It is said that President Dwight D. Eisenhower fell in love with the German highway during the Second World War and brought the idea home.
But there is much more than that.
The demand for better roads precedes the Eisenhower years by several kilometers. Advocacy for building new roads came from an unlikely source: bike enthusiasts. Clubs like the League of American Wheelmen were created to support the new fashion, Kansas City cyclists organizing their own chapter in the 1890s.
At the turn of the century, car enthusiasts joined the fight and the cyclists were quickly repulsed. These early motorists contributed to the passage of the Federal Assistance Act in 1916 and work on the first US highways system began once the money began to flow.
Enter (unsurprisingly) the boss Tom Pendergast, who was appointed Superintendent of the Streets in 1900 and came to understand that voters cared more about the well-maintained streets than what was happening behind the curtains of power. He and his formidable political machine helped elect a downtown mercer named Harry S. Truman as Jackson County Judge President in 1922, and improving roads remained a top priority.
In 1931, despite the effects of the Great Depression, Pendergast urged voters to support a 10-year plan allocating $ 50 million for public improvements. Money has created jobs through the construction of new parks, sewers, waterways, public buildings and, of course, roads.
Meanwhile, the idea of building transcontinental roads was gaining ground.
Previous generations of road planners thought that these highways should avoid urban areas, believing that the merging of local and long-distance traffic would create congestion. Towards the end of the 1930s, a new approach had taken root: crossing highways through cities, where congestion was attributed to short daily trips by locals and not to long-distance travelers.
Pendergast had lost his hold on Kansas City – the political reformers hiring LP Cookingham as a city manager – at the time a preliminary plan for his downtown loop was inscribed in the City Plan Commission's 1943 report titled Long Oral Description from the road, he suggested crossing the highways through devastated areas that would be inexpensive to acquire. The highways, he said, could stimulate these areas economically. But he also warned of a potentially disastrous impact on already prosperous areas.
The idea of using withered land for roads emerged in the "City of Kansas City Master Plan" of 1947, which included residential development, public transit, schools, parks, and public buildings. which was designed to catapult the city into the modern world. . It is here that the citizens of Kansas had a first glimpse of the loop.
The era of urban renewal has started well. In 1949, President Truman signed the US Housing Act, which gave cities more and more powers to clean up damaged and substandard buildings with federally funded housing. Subsequent legislation has broadened the scope of the draft law, allowing the redevelopment of devastated areas beyond housing.
Funding for highway construction was still not in place when Cookinham published Expressways of Greater Kansas City in 1951, but that was not about to slow down his plans. The city of Kansas City had a long history as a hub of agriculture, livestock and business, and the 1951 report aimed to preserve that legacy through the new highway system. Surrounding the downtown area with highways would surely prevent businesses from flocking to the suburbs.
The report also noted the shift of the 1950s residential population to the suburbs. Cookinham knew that the new suburbs would need high-speed roads to get in and out of the city as efficiently as possible.
The city director also began aggressively annexing unincorporated lands south and north of the river to detain taxpayers who moved out. With this, the city more widely controlled the system of highways.
In 1956, with Eisenhower's signing of the Federal Aid Highway Act, planners provided modest funding for road construction and suggested modest construction schedules. They were far away. The new law created the Highway Trust Fund, which promised to cover 90% of highway construction costs.
The construction of the northern section of the downtown loop began in 1953. The area around Sixth Street, between the downtown core and the river market, was cleared to connect the old intercity viaduct to the new Paseo Bridge. to the East. The scope of the project, including the bulldozing of a large number of downtown buildings, earned it the nickname "The Kansas City Blitz".
The Intercity Freeway was officially inaugurated on October 7, 1957, making the national newspaper headlines. Starting from the new Auditorium Plaza Garage on 12th Street and in central and central streets, Cookingham has offered journalists and business executives a comprehensive tour of the city's many achievements in urban renewal. In Kansas City, they admired the view from the city center from a tractor trailer pulled by an agricultural tractor.
This distinguished walk wound towards the new Paseo bridge. Following speeches and a ribbon cutting, drivers can now easily cross the city center.
Everyone is not celebrated. The owner of the Muehlebach Hotel and chair of the downtown committee, Barney Allis, has expressed his criticism of the plan. He led a group of downtown business owners who felt that tightening the loop would make entering and leaving downtown streets difficult and dangerous. They also believed that motorists would bypass the downtown core and spend their money on suburban shopping malls rather than dealing with congestion in the downtown core.
The construction of the eastern section of the loop began in 1958. The Southeast Freeway, as it was called, would connect the northeast corner of the loop to Interstate 70.
Some churches, houses and other historic structures have survived the new construction and remain today, reflecting the once largely residential character of the area east of the downtown core.
The eastern part of the loop was dedicated on August 17, 1962. The Mayor, H. Roe Bartle, presided over a ceremony featuring federal, provincial and local dignitaries. The Air Force treated the crowd to a sounding sound of a fighter jet at an agreed time. The ribbon was cut and traffic began to follow the north and east boundaries of downtown.
Interestingly, in the same issue of The Kansas City Star that covered the ceremony, readers could find half a page of advertising encouraging them to use the new highway to bypass the crowded downtown shopping district for a new Sears site at East of the city and boast acres of free parking in the shops.
Work on the southern limit of the loop began in 1961. If the initial parts of the loop had been impressive, the fact that the Crosstown Expressway was conceived as a depressed road through the heart of the downtown area promised to this project a monumental success. .
Not only should land be acquired and cleared, but an eight-lane trench between Locust Street West and Broadway should be dug out before construction begins. Locals called the project "Kansas City Cup".
The Crosstown Freeway was inaugurated on July 20, 1967 with a relatively modest ceremony with a brief speech by Missouri Road Commission Chairman Jack Stapleton.
The last section of the loop, the West Freeway, crossed the western suburbs of Kansas City and sliced the West Terrace Park, one of George Kessler's earliest city achievements.
The project lasted nearly 20 years and appeared to be less exciting when it opened on October 26, 1972. The Star noted that only Cookingham, the retired City Manager and Road Engineer Joe Woolard were present. There was no official ceremony.
The opinion of the city on the Loop has changed over the decades. The fatigue of construction was part of it. Criticism was also expressed about how this affected Kansas City's relations with the city center.
Highways facilitate car travel, but they often disrupt pedestrians and cyclists. Over time, residents evacuated downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, leaving them rotten. Meanwhile, shoppers seeking entertainment have ignored the city center for decades, using the Loop to launch it into slings while heading to the remotest corners of the metropolitan area. With the growth and proliferation of automobiles, kilometers and miles of trams and rail infrastructure have been decayed and covered with asphalt.
Today, for many, the Downtown Loop is a marvel of construction and engineering that has helped bring Kansas City into the modern era. For others, it ravaged the urban core of our city. The truth may be somewhere in the middle. Whether we like it or not, the loop is up to us to treat. Pedestrians, residents, shoppers and transit users are once again living in the downtown core. It remains to be seen how they will affect his future.
How we found it
To get a general overview of the history of highways, we used Earl Swift, Highways: The unprecedented history of the engineers, visionaries and pioneers who created the American highways. Bill Gilbert's This city, this man: Cookingham era in Kansas City helped us learn about L.P. Cookingham's career in the post-Pendergast years. Reports on the location of inter-regional highways, the Kansas City Master Plan and the Kansas City Highways are available to researchers in the Missouri Valley Room on the fifth floor of the Central Library.
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. (tagsToTranslate) city center (t) loop (t) highway (t) highway (t) highway (t) eisenhower (t) pendergast (t) truman (t) bicycle (t) burned