Blast brings down third and final arch of historic Buck O’Neil steel-truss Bridge

A loud rumbling boom was heard across the Kansas City metro area shortly after rush hour Tuesday as a blast dropped the third and final arch of the iconic John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil Memorial Bridge into the Missouri River below.

Shortly before 9:30 a.m., the explosion ended an era for the metro and removed a popular part of Kansas City’s skyline. Built in the post-World War II automobile boom, the bridge on the northwest corner of downtown had served for several decades as a vital connection between downtown and communities in the Northland, carrying U.S. 169 over the Missouri River.

Two separate modern highway bridges, currently under construction, will replace the former triple arch, steel-truss structure that opened in 1956 as a toll bridge run by the city. It cost $12 million to build and generated nearly $40 million in tolls before the tolls were ended in 1991, at which time it cost 25 cents a car to cross. The city transferred ownership of the bridge to MoDOT in 1992.

The bridge, once known as the Broadway Bridge, was renamed in 2016 to honor popular sports legend Buck O’Neil.

For the history of the bridge, see: From labor strikes to demolition, here’s the history of Kansas City’s Buck O’Neil Bridge.

The bridge was demolished with three separate blasts. The first was on Feb. 15 with the northern arch, followed by another explosion on April 2 for the middle arch. The southern arch was the last to be demolished.

Explosive charges are detonated to take down the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
Explosive charges are detonated to take down the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
Explosive charges are detonated to take down the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
Explosive charges are detonated to take down the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.

Because of public safety concerns, all three blasts were closed to the public. On Tuesday, northbound U.S. 169 was intermittently closed from Fifth Street to Richards Road.

In January, the bridge stopped carrying traffic over the river. Northbound traffic on U.S. 169 was shifted to one of the newly built river bridges. For now, the new southbound bridge carries northbound traffic over the river.

Southbound U.S. 169 had been closed at the Wheeler Downtown Airport for the construction of the new bridges and drivers continue to be detoured via Interstate 29/35 over the Bond Bridge on the northeast corner of downtown.

Although the Buck O’Neil bridge, which was nearing the end of its projected life span, underwent a short-term rehabilitation project to extend its life in 2018, a new bridge was needed to serve the communities that have changed significantly since the original bridge was built. Nearly 50,000 vehicles a day used the old bridge before it closed to traffic.

The final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was demolished on Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
The final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was demolished on Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
The final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was demolished on Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.
The final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was demolished on Tuesday over the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City.

There was hope to preserve the old bridge and convert it into a pedestrian-friendly linear park. A feasibility study in 2022 determined that the project would be too costly.

The Missouri Department of Transportation and Kansas City worked together to obtain the $220 million needed for the project to construct the new bridge. Massman-Clarkson, A Joint Venture, was the design-build contractor chosen for the project. Construction began in July 2021 and is expected to be completed in December.

Some information in this story was provided by Michael Wells.

The debris of the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was rests in the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City after Tuesday after it was brought down with explosive charges.
The debris of the final arch of the Buck O’Neil Bridge was rests in the Missouri River near downtown Kansas City after Tuesday after it was brought down with explosive charges.