Olsson Associates


Revisiting Joplin, Missouri – Area devastated by tornado transforms into city showpiece

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Leah Bucco-White, Communications

Transformation continues to take place in Joplin, Missouri. It is a journey of patience and perseverance as the community recovers from a 2011 tornado that took numerous lives and destroyed much of the city’s buildings and infrastructure. 

“Rebuilding is a part of our healing process and helps us regain a sense of normalcy,” said Jack Schaller, Olsson Associates senior engineer and long-time resident. “Joplin’s approach to recovery was to encourage rebuilding, build it better, and get people back into the community as soon as possible.”  

The main objective was to create a sense of place and inspire revitalization and development within the area destroyed by the tornado. The next objective was to fix the infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed, or that was dilapidated due to age.

The City of Joplin hired the Joint Engineering Team that included Olsson as prime and TransSystems and CJW Consultants as subcontractors to spearhead rebuilding efforts.

Main Street Repair and Revitalization  

Joplin’s Main Street was old, in disrepair, and blighted prior to the 2011 tornado. After the tornado and associated cleanup, Main Street was barely usable for anything other than a rough road to downtown.

The city’s vision for Main Street went beyond a design to alleviate flooding and repair what was damaged.

 It was one of economic development and revitalization of a blighted section of town.


Main Street improvements, Joplin, Missouri

“A 15-block streetscaping project is an enormous undertaking. A typical streetscape project is four to five blocks,” said Clayton Cristy, project manager. “We’ve had a lot of assistance from our Olsson family including our design studio Ochsner Hare & Hare, which helped incorporate character.”  

New pavement, sidewalks, curbs, and gutters — along with the addition of new streetlighting, benches, planters, trees with up-lighting, decorative intersections, bike lanes, location plaques and bump outs — make Main Street not only functional, but visually appealing and welcoming.


Main Street improvements, Joplin, Missouri

“This was a monumental effort. Every member of the Olsson team involved in this project put their heart and soul into it because they realized this was part of the rebuilding after the tornado,” said Jack. “Main Street was one of the final pieces of the puzzle that basically let the community know we’re not only coming back, we’re coming back better than we were before.”

Surface and Stormwater Improvements  

Olsson worked on surface and stormwater projects that cover roughly 25 percent of the city. The projects were done in low to moderate income (LMI) areas. The surface improvement projects included replacing damaged sidewalks, curbs and gutters, and pavement plus adding ADA-accessible intersections throughout the area. Olsson’s Springfield Water Resources team designed the stormwater systems to help minimize or alleviate flooding in the LMI areas.  


Street improvements in a local neighborhood.

 Not only was critical infrastructure strengthened and updated, the improvements also had an impact on the people and how they perceive their neighborhoods. Residents now share a sense of pride in where they live, according to Jack.

“Main Street, the surface projects, and the stormwater projects provided a facelift for an entire area that was almost devastated, and transformed it into a showpiece for the city,” he said.

More Multimodal Transportation Options with Mohaska Trail

A more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly city was one improvement citizens wanted. Olsson provided planning, budgeting, design, right-of-way, survey, and permitting for the new Mohaska trail. The trail connects several local parks, a new senior center, a university medical school, hospital, and Main Street, and ultimately joins the rest of the city’s trail network.

The Mohaska trail offers another way for people to get to their destinations.

Early Work in Planning and Prioritization Pays Off

Many of the recovery projects were funded by federal dollars the city received through the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG). The CDBG funds have strict rules and requirements and need to be used within a defined time frame, which can lead to accelerated deadlines. 

“Our work with the city to plan, identify projects, define scope, budget, and timelines, and prioritize in the months after the tornado really paid off,” said Clayton. “This transparent process kept our projects on time and on budget. When there was extra funding available, the city could immediately move to the next project on the list.”  

Olsson teams have been part of several other recovery-related projects including Mercy Park, Mercy Hospital Joplin, Joplin Public Library, 32nd Street and Central City Road roundabout, and the McCoy Avenue extension project. 


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