Part of I-70 damaged by deadly fire in Kansas City to remain closed into weekend

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The fire that took the life of a homeless person caused significant damage to bridge girders along westbound Interstate 70, requiring the highway to remain closed into the weekend, a highway official said Friday afternoon.

Even when the interstate is reopened, the center lane will remain closed for some time until the Missouri Department of Transportation can come up with a plan to make repairs.

“The inspections found significant damage to the girders that are directly underneath the center lane of westbound 70,” said assistant district engineer Matt Killion, with MoDOT’s Kansas City District.

“So we’re going to keep that center lane closed for some time until we can assess the damage underneath the center lane and to make more possible repairs in the future.”

In the meantime, highway officials are developing plans to reopen the right and left lanes of westbound I-70 and hope to have that portion of the highway reopened sooner.

“The timelines are uncertain due to many variables including the upcoming storm and temperatures over the weekend,” he said. “We’re working hard today and would ultimately have those repairs completed sometime Sunday and be able to open at the very latest before rush hour on Monday morning.”

With the Kansas City Chiefs playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium, Killion said they would like to have repairs completed sometime Sunday.

“We understand the Chiefs game is Sunday night and there will definitely be some impacts there,” Killion said. “So fans are encouraged to be sure and check the routes before they leave the game since this will be affecting folks leaving the stadium after the game.”

The highway leading to downtown Kansas City was closed after a fire swept through a homeless camp near Indiana Avenue and Truman road beneath an I-70 overpass in the area.

While investigating the cause of the fire, crews found a body. Kansas City police were called to the scene, who later said the victim was an adult and no foul play was immediately suspected.

A body was found early Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in a fire at a homeless encampment near Interstate 70 and Truman Road. The Kansas City Fire Department was called around 6 a.m., said Fire Education Specialist Jason Spreitzer.
A body was found early Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in a fire at a homeless encampment near Interstate 70 and Truman Road. The Kansas City Fire Department was called around 6 a.m., said Fire Education Specialist Jason Spreitzer.

Fearing that the intense heat of the blaze weakened the bridge, MoDOT crews closed the bridge so they could check out its structural integrity.

MoDOT is making plans to set up traffic control along I-70 prior to the opening of the right and left lanes through the area. It will also be closing the westbound entrance ramp from from 18th and 23rd streets, which will have “significant impacts” while the center lane is closed, Killion said.

Crews will also add additional support under the center lane and make concrete repairs to the bridge in order for it to open safely.

Westbound Interstate 70 near 18th Street in Kansas City was closed due to an early morning fire underneath a bridge where a body was found in a homeless encampment Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Motorists were backed up and many exited the highway at 23rd Street. Eastbound I-70 remained open.
Westbound Interstate 70 near 18th Street in Kansas City was closed due to an early morning fire underneath a bridge where a body was found in a homeless encampment Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Motorists were backed up and many exited the highway at 23rd Street. Eastbound I-70 remained open.

“Come Monday morning we do expect to be open, but with that center lane closed there will still be significant impacts to commuter and rush hour traffic on Monday and moving forward,” Killion said.

The costs to repair the bridge has not been determined.

While the highway is closed, drivers are being urged to exit I-70 at the Interstate 435 interchange. Local traffic was being allowed to exit at the 18th Street exit and use city streets through the neighborhoods to get around the closure.

While fires under bridges do occur, it is rare where a fire causes enough damage to close a bridge, Killion said.

“We deal with this on a constant basis and, you know, we work with our partners to address situations like this under our bridges,” he said.