With much discussion centering on its future, many are unaware of the history behind Interstate 229’s past.
I-229 has been called many names, including the Riverfront Express and the West Belt Highway. According to the past St. Joseph News-Presse and Gazette stories, its original design was conceived in 1955. The following year, St. Joseph voters approved a 10% match to federal funds which came with a total construction cost of nearly $111 million. .
The section south of the freeway to 22nd Street opened in 1968, the connection to Edmond/Charles in 1981, St. Joseph Avenue in 1983, and the remainder north was completed in 1988.
Gary Chilcote was one of the reporters who covered I-229’s 20 years of construction. Chilcote worked in journalism for 40 years before becoming a volunteer director of the Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home. The hill land on which the Jesse James House sits was actually used for part of the construction of the I-229 bridge.
“They didn’t think of all the changes it would take to build (I-229), including wiping out a lot of residential areas south of downtown. It was a big deal,” Chilcote said. “There were Protestant churches down there, there were Catholic schools. This is where the original Mexican fiesta comes from.
One of the original incentives to build I-229 was to connect to stockyards, but it was also seen as a means of potential downtown economic development, according to the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce in 1988. causeway had the potential to change commuting habits in addition to transporting semi-trucks along the river.
However, the construction of the bridge took over 20 years and growth declined in Buchanan County during this time. In 1950, the county was Missouri’s fifth in population. In 1990, Buchanan County was ninth, according to the Missouri Census Data Center.
Marty Liles is the Northwest Engineer at the Missouri Department of Transportation and oversees maintenance of the freeway, which sometimes requires the double-decker portion to be closed for repairs. He said there’s no one who worked on the bridge who’s still with the northwest office, but his crew certainly gained first-hand knowledge of its inconsistent makeup.
“Bridges are made of steel and concrete, aren’t they? But in this case we have steel beams, we have concrete beams,” Liles said. “We are in northwest Missouri; we get a lot of high temperatures and we get a lot of very cold temperatures. This steel and the concrete, they expand to contract at different rates…this also has an effect on the longevity of the bridge.
These age effects caused MoDOT to consider the future of I-229 and to consider replacing the downtown bridge and possibly removing the interstate status of the causeway. The two-stage section, which is about 54 years old, requires continuous maintenance, and the maximum service life is 20 to 30 years.
The estimated cost of maintenance during this period is approximately $50 million.
MoDOT is working on a few plans that will soon be presented to the public for review. Liles said it will coincide with a new interactive website that will allow the community to provide feedback on ideas.
“Any time you have an elevated structure, it costs more than putting something on the ground,” Liles said. “What complicates things further is that not only is it not a single deck, but now you have a two-story deck, which brings more weight, more capacity, more stuff for this foundation.