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MoDOT gathers opinions on East Columbia road alternatives

MoDOT gathers opinions on East Columbia road alternatives

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After viewing the four competing road construction plans for East Columbia, Doris Littrell, vice chair of the Timberhill Road Neighborhood Association, wanted a fifth choice: none of the above.

All four of the “reasonable alternatives” presented by the Missouri Department of Transportation have the same proposed path for the Stadium Boulevard extension to Route WW.

Culled from nine alternatives suggested a year ago, the four chosen for further pursuit all include improvements to Route WW as well. The differences among the final four boil down to two questions: “Should the Stadium extension connect with Interstate 70 at the Lake of the Woods or Route Z interchanges?” and “Should Ballenger Road be extended so that it carries traffic across I-70 to link up with Stadium?”

After gauging the reaction to the four alternatives, MoDOT, the City of Columbia and Boone County will present a preferred alternative in a draft environmental impact statement next year.

Littrell was one of more than 200 people who attended the MoDOT open house at the Elks Lodge on Oct. 24, and her neighborhood is located just east of U.S. 63 and south of Route WW. It would be bordered on the west side by an extension of Stadium.

“Our main issue with the extension of Stadium is that it would go right through a neighborhood of about 50 residential houses,” Littrell said. “In addition to that, we don’t think that it goes far enough east. If it’s going to extend past 63, it should go farther away from 63 in order to help alleviate any kind of traffic issues.”

Ann Peters, the past chair of the Woodridge Neighborhood Association and a current member of the city Planning and Zoning Commission, said she prefers sending Stadium to the Route Z interchange. Above all, she said, anything that would help traffic move better along St. Charles Road would be welcome because there are few street outlets between Lake of the Woods and WW on the street.

Residents in the Woodridge and Avalon subdivisions want a road system that relieves congestion in their area. Matt Volkert, president of the Avalon Homeowners Association, said they support any alternative that would divert traffic around the U.S. 63/I-70 interchange, “whether it’s a cloverleaf structure or something like that that keeps people from going through the interchange for every single thing they’re going to do, or that diverts things through a Stadium extension would be good for us.”

But Volkert and other residents expressed concerns about a Ballenger extension feeding more traffic onto St. Charles Road. “We need to do something to relieve traffic that is continuing to pile up on St. Charles Road and WW,” said Al Hahn, chair of the Woodridge Neighborhood Association. “The population north of I-70 wants a Ballenger extension, but Ballenger would add on to the St. Charles Road traffic.”

The city council probably will weigh in on its preferences in January or February, Public Works Director John Glascock said at the open house.

“The Ballenger Road extension is the most important factor for the city,” Glascock said.

Glascock also suggested that the Stadium extension might begin as a two-lane road and be widened to four lanes later, although a four-lane right-of-way would be acquired in either instance.

Some local residents, however, said they want an expressway, which might limit development along the road. “Having a two-lane road to help move traffic from a four-lane road doesn’t make any sense,” Littrell said.

Realtor John Pekkala, who is marketing the Cross Creeks development at the intersection of U.S. Highway 63 and Stadium, said he was generally enthusiastic about the possible new roads but that he didn’t think they would affect his development very much. He said new housing developments on WW, such as Old Hawthorne and the Vineyards, are already putting a strain on traffic along the whole Broadway corridor.

“WW’s going to be big,” he said. “That’s one where it would really pay to improve it. If it were up to me, the road ought to run to the north side of the American Legion ballfield and connect up with El Chapparal.”

Pekkala said he thought the studied area should have been expanded to include the Gans Road interchange to the south, where commercial zoning is going to bring much future development. “I predict that interchange will be built extremely fast,” he said.

Gregg Suhler, president of the Timberhill Road Neighborhood Association, said he was disappointed with the narrow range of options presented because they did not reflect present realities.

Suhler said he drives on the Grindstone Parkway every day and thought taking the New Haven Road improvements off the table was a mistake. He said traffic counts that say there are more cars traveling on Stadium than Grindstone are two years out of date.”

The traffic count has risen exponentially on Grindstone in the past year or so and there are many more cars on Grindstone than Stadium today, Suhler said. “I’d be surprised if it isn’t a multiple on the order of two or four to one.”

MoDOT officials say they are still collecting responses to the alternatives from people who could not attend the meeting and will study them along with those submitted at the open house. As the selection process narrows to the preferred alternative, the study team will juggle considerations such as geography, costs, right-of-way acquisition, potential home displacement and environmental protection to come to a decision.

“The next step is a detailed engineering analysis of specific areas of right of way with detailed costs and environmental impacts,” said Mike Dusenberg, planning manager for MoDOT’s district five. He said the ideal alternative would be identified next spring at a public hearing.

Dusenberg said two alternatives, WW-1 and WW-2, were dropped from consideration because they were too limited and did not solve the overall problem of congestion on the road network in Eastern Columbia. Likewise, alternative RR-3 was dropped because it would have required a new I-70 interchange, and the New Haven alternatives, NH-1 and NH-2, were dropped because they did not link Stadium to the interstate.

“New Haven was seen as too far south to relieve congestion,” Dusenberg said. “Extending New Haven as a new outer loop also doesn’t take traffic from the northeast to the university or downtown, which were seen as prime destinations.”

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