Route 169 Wall Repairs To Start This Summer

The Missouri Department of Transportation issued a notice last week to all users of Route 169 north of the Wheeler Downtown Airport:

MoDOT plans major repairs on Route 169 along the Missouri River beginning in late July through the remainder of this year. The work is both necessary and urgent, but will create a significant, long-term traffic disruption along an important link between Downtown Kansas City and Northland communities. You and your stakeholders need to know what is coming.

The problems that must be fixed begin with a deteriorating metal bin wall, which holds up the east side of the northbound lanes along the Missouri River levee just north of Wheeler Downtown Airport. Access to the bin wall is difficult, and must be accomplished from the northbound and southbound lanes. That's because Route 169 in this mile-long segment is different than most highways. It lies only a few hundred feet from one of the great rivers of North America. The levee keeps the river from flooding the nearby lowlands, including the Wheeler Downtown Airport, the railroad yards to the east, and the highway, which is built upon the levee. That's on the west side. On the east side is a very busy Burlington Northern-Santa Fe rail yard, with only a few feet between highway lanes and mainline tracks.

Nearly 60 years ago, northbound Route 169 along the east bank of the Missouri River was a city road to the Downtown Airport. However, a solid road built on a levee made of dirt and sand presented challenges. The loose material must be kept in place so that the pavement remains solid and doesn’t break apart.

A “bin wall” 12 feet high in some places was built to keep the underlying base in place and support the road. The bin wall is made up of corrugated steel panels. MoDOT took over this road in 1994, and in the last decade, those steel panels have rusted out enough that replacement is now necessary. There is no quick fix.

Last summer MoDOT and HDR, its engineering consultant, tested a method to repair the bin walls. Subsequent review by MoDOT and HDR engineers determined that building concrete walls would best correct the problems. The Broadway Extension (Route 169 in this area) carries 35,000 vehicles per day between the Northland and Downtown Kansas City. A long-term solution requires extensive construction. Since an active railroad yard is only a few feet away, there is no room off MoDOT’s right of way to stage construction equipment. Highway closure is the only feasible method of making repairs.

This spring, a contract will be awarded to: Replace deteriorated sections of the wall that supports the northbound lanes; fix bridges that support the southbound lanes; repair guard rail and barrier; and replace drainage between the northbound and southbound lanes, which will resolve the highway’s problems for the long term.

The work is expected to take up to five months, which will require closure of both the southbound lanes and northbound lanes of Route 169. Motorists will continue to have access to Wheeler Downtown Airport from Downtown via the Broadway Bridge, and from Harlem Road to the east. Detours will be to Heart of America, Fairfax and Bond bridges.