FOR NEARLY TWO CENTURIES, KANSAS CITY HAS BEEN A KEY STEPPING-OFF POINT FOR GOODS AND SERVICES THAT NOW SPAN THE NATION AND GLOBE.
If you’ve ever been to Maine, you’ll never mistake Kansas City for part of the Pine Tree State. But one of the best things about being here and scouting the map for routes to Maine—or Oregon, Florida or California—is that, contrary to what folks might tell you in the Northeast, you can indeed get there from here.
Many features contribute to quality of life in coastal cities, yet the fact remains: only the landlocked can build roads in any direction. And we’ve done just that. Kansas City is blessed with four key interstate connections, with I-70, which nearly bisects the nation from east to west; I-35, the so-called NAFTA super highway linking Mexico to Great Lakes ports; I-29, which originates here and runs nearly straight north to Canada; and I-49, which starts on our southern flank and eventually connects to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.
Within that network of concrete and asphalt are multiple threads of iron and steel: Class 1 rail companies BNSF, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern help this region lay claim to being the nation’s No. 1 market for rail tonnage, and No. 2 for rail traffic. Those carriers have helped thrust this region into conversations nationally about centers of logistics excellence. And the growth in that sector, especially with multimodal transportation, has been phenomenal.
In the air above us, the region also boasts strong connections thanks to Kansas City International Airport—soon to receive a nearly $2 billion makeover—plus regional airports supporting business travel at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (our air connection to the world before KCI opened in 1972), plus a pair of facilities in the biggest county on the Kansas side, New Century Airport and Johnson County Executive Airport.
Still not enough? Well, our transportation structure doesn’t stop there. Long before the first road was graded, runway was gouged out or rail spike was driven, there was a natural highway connecting KC to St. Louis, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico: The Missouri River. Kansas
City is the westernmost freight port on the river, with runs nearly through the center of the state and was the first interstate of the Plains States and Middle America.
But none of Kansas City’s transportation infrastructure is siloed, and never was that as apparent as with the most recent national report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers. A state-by-state assessment of nine key transportation and infrastructure metrics,
it demonstrated that for all the access that Kansas City offers to business and the world beyond, its connections could be imperiled without additional attention to statewide priorities.
Kansas, across the nine metrics, fared better than many states—it was assigned no grade lower than a C-minus. Flip side, it didn’t grade out higher than a C in any category, leaving it with an average grade of C. Missouri (with two additional metrics) fared somewhat worse across 11 categories, earning a D-minus, a D and three D-plus grades to go with a pair of C-minus rankings and four C’s.
The prescriptions for each state were generally the same: increase state funding to ensure retention of matching federal funds, and a particular focus must be paid to the freight infrastructure system as the region continues to assert itself as a capital for logistics, saying that “our freight network is only as strong as its weakest link.” It further recommended a more systematic approach to flood prevention in Missouri, and better regulation of high-hazard dams and levees to mitigate flood risk.