The Kansas City region is increasingly seen as an important crossroads for much of North America. The reasons for this are clear. Greater Kansas City is located near the geographic center of the nation.
Transportation and Infrastructure
With this convenient travel and time-zone
connection, its location is also at the intersection
of several key highways and interstates and the
confluence of major rail lines. These and other
advantages make it increasingly a hotspot for many
industries for which fast, convenient, technologically
advanced transportation and communications
systems are a must.
In the Beginning
These location advantages are not new. Without dwelling long on dusty history, it is worth noting that the cities of Kansas City, St. Joseph, Atchison and several others were founded in large part because of their location. A strategic bend in the Missouri River made this area a logical launching point for the Santa Fe Trail and later Oregon and California trails. Although river paddleboats and covered wagons are long gone, the importance of the area’s geography remains vital today.
Kansas City International Airport | Located 20 minutes from downtown Kansas City, KCI’s terminals and parking are easy to navigate. Surrounding KCI are 10,000 acres of land that is being planned for industrial development.
In fact, trends such as just-in-time manufacturing are making centralized, easily accessed locales such as Kansas City increasingly important, not just for distribution, but a growing list of manufacturing operations. As a result, almost every city and even most smaller communities in the area are seeing an influx of new distribution centers and manu-facturing operations that can receive material with relative speed from either coast, and ship with equal facility to locations through-out the country. In Kansas City, Topeka or St. Joseph, many of these are major operations by national corporations such as General Motors or Firestone. In Sedalia or Ottawa, they may be locally owned companies that ship nationally and have flourished in part because of their location. A key reason for all of this is evident from even a simple highway map. Greater Kansas City’s inherent location advantages are enhanced by its position at the crossroads of some of the nation’s most strategic highways and interstates. I-70 and I-35, “the NAFTA Superhighway,” are the most obvious and most important. Like I-35, I-29 also extends north to the Canadian border. Residents and businesses in metropolitan Kansas City are 10 hours or less by vehicle from major cities such as Denver, Dallas and Chicago.
To the south, U.S. Highway 71 provides an
interstate-quality route almost all the way to
New Orleans, with only a 100-plus mile stretch in Arkansas remaining as two-lane. This highway has been proposed for upgrade to interstate status for its entire length. At St. Joseph, four-lane U.S. provides another cross-state option that provides an interstate connection to Chicago near Hannibal, Mo.
This excellent web of major national
roadways is supplemented locally by
a generally outstanding highway and
freeway net-work. Indeed, metropolitan
Kansas City has more highway miles per
capita than any metro area in the nation
as well as any city in the world. All three
of the largest cities—Kansas City, Topeka
and St. Joseph, have excellent local interstate
belts and spurs that facilitate
travel both in and around the region.
Rail and Air
Kansas City’s obvious over-the-road strength has sometimes over-shadowed its potent performance in other transportation arenas. Kansas City’s rail service has always been one of the best in the country and remains the second largest rail center in the nation—the largest in terms of rail miles.
Two major rail companies, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Kansas City Southern, are involved in development of two separate transportation hubs in metropolitan Kansas City. These intermodal centers are being designed to exploit Kansas City’s central location along with its rare combination of highway and rail traffic. Although the area is already home to several intermodal centers, these two will dwarf their predecessors in terms of size and sophistication.
One of those centers also illustrates the depth and breadth of Kansas City’s strategic advantage in transportation. The former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base on the southern edge of Kansas City is being developed by CenterPoint Properties of Chicago after its recent purchase from the Kansas City Port Authority. Equally significant is the ring of potential industrial sites owned in the area by Kansas City Southern. Two years ago KC Southern purchased Mexican rail lines that connect to a deepwater port on one end, and with existing Kansas City Southern railroads on the other. The long-range plan is to create what in effect will be an international trade hub that intersects in the Kansas City area.
More immediate, but equally farreaching,
are plans at Kansas City International
Airport. The region’s largest
air facility is one of the most convenient
in the nation for passengers, but its role as
an economic development engine or cargo
hub have not been verwhelming. Two
years ago, the city of Kansas City, MO—
unveiled long-range plans to create a “city
within a city” around the airport. Although the concepts are extensive, work has already begun on the first phases of the effort: creation of a high-tech air cargo center on part of the 8,000 acres of undeveloped property surrounding the airport.
What may be most significant in all of this is the momentum that appears to have been generated. Although the projects are not always huge by national standards, the range of infrastructure and transportation development in Kansas City adds up to a significant total.