Transportation and Infrastructure

By Ranking Among the Nation’s Interstate Elites, Kansas City Enjoys Multiple Means of Commercial Transportation.

The historic by product of two interstate highways crossing paths has been explosive economic growth wherever such connections are made. For Kansas City, long-time bragging rights as a metro with three interstate links:I-35, I-70 and I-29—were validated with growth along each of those corridors in the decades since each gained its designation as part of the nation’s interstate system.

But since 2012, the region has enjoyed rarefied status as one of only five metropolitan areas served by at least four interstates—joining New York, Dallas, Chicago and Nashville. That came when officials cut the ribbon on I-49, formerly known as U.S. 71, and gave the region interstate access that includes:

• Improved connections to New Orleans and Gulf ports to the south, thanks to I-49. 

• A coast-to-coast corridor from California to Washington D.C. with I-70, which ties into I-15 in Utah for the trip to ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego.

• A direct shot to Canada with I-29, with its terminus near Winnipeg, picking up northbo-und traffic from Gulf ports via I-49.

• And a link between Mexico and the shipping channels of the Great Lakes with I-35, the king of interstate commerce also known as the NAFTA Superhighway.

But there’s more to Kansas City’s transportation infrastructure than just highway lane miles. The region has become a national center for logistics excellence precisely because its interstate access is complemented nearly unmatched Class I rail service, its ability to ship air cargo through Kansas City International Airport, and even its ability to ship goods by water on the Missouri River.

Water-borne commerce, in fact, is what gave the city its start, thanks to the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, which meet just west of Downtown. And the Missouri continues to play a strategic role for agricultural commerce by providing a pathway for shipping to the Mississippi River and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. 

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 10.11.10 AMAs the city developed—and as the locomotive evol-ved—the region took on new shipping importance in the late 19th century. That connection, in fact, made steak dinners in New York possible, thanks to refrigerated rail cars coming out of the Kansas City stockyards.

Even today, long after the stockyards have closed here, Kansas City remains the second-largest rail center in the country, and No. 1 overall in terms of rail tonnage shipped every year. The region is served by both BNSF and Union Pacific, linking to the networks that reach to ports on the West Cost, intermountain metro areas that include Denver and Salt Lake City, the Great Lakes region, with Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis, and Dallas and Houston on the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Kansas City Southern Railway provides a direct rail line not just to the Gulf, but runs as a commercial spine through Mexico through its Kansas City Southern de Mexico subsidiary, with rail links into countries throughout Central America. The company also owns a 50-percent share of the Panama Canal Railway Co., connecting rail traffic for ocean-bound shipping to either the Atlantic or Pacific.

And, finally, there is air transportation. Kansas City International airport, moves more air cargo each year than any other airport within a six-state area. Of course, it’s the premier passenger-traffic destination in the region, and the City is planning a billion-dollar makeover to convert its 43-year-old, three-terminal design into a consolidated, one-terminal operation.

Relieving some of the passenger traffic congestion at KCI are the Max B. Fisher Skyhaven Airport in Warrensburg, operated by the University of Central Missouri, which is the second-busiest airport in the region. Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport serves the heart of the metro area and is adjacent to the commercial core of the region, while Executive Airport serves much the same function in the other half of the region’s commercial base in Johnson County, on the Kansas side. And an hour’s drive away, or less, are additional airports in Topeka and St. Joseph.