Foundation for new interchange was laid years before construction

By Adam Rollins, Record Staff Writer
Posted 5/9/18

Warrenton’s new west Interstate 70 interchange is open to traffic after almost a year of construction, and several years of planning before that. The project’s completion also comes close to the …

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Foundation for new interchange was laid years before construction


Warrenton’s new west Interstate 70 interchange is open to traffic after almost a year of construction, and several years of planning before that. The project’s completion also comes close to the 25th anniversary of the nearby Warrenton mall, which hopes to see new life thanks to the development.“Truly this a dream come true for all of us,” Mayor Eric Schleuter said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony a week prior to the full opening.The interchange includes entrance and exit ramps from I-70, an overpass bridge named in memory of the late Mayor Jerry Dyer, and new connections between the north and south outer roads. Construction also included a rebuild of a portion of Veterans Memorial Parkway (the south outer road), which opened again earlier this year.Drivers using the new interchange will have to navigate a feature that many Warren County residents might not be familiar with. Roundabouts control the flow of traffic at the north and south ends of the overpass bridge. There are no traffic lights.Drivers approaching a roundabout are required to slow down and yield to any vehicles already in the roundabout. That applies even to drivers exiting the interstate. Treat the dotted line like a stop sign until any vehicles pass.Another roundabout at the intersection of Veterans Memorial Parkway and Highway MM was completed in June.Some visual improvements to the interchange are still a work in progress. Landscaping will be done later this fall when conditions are more favorable for planting, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) stated.The project was fully funded by two half-cent sales taxes approved by the residents of Warrenton in 2016. City Administrator Terry Thorn said the total cost for the project was approximately $12 million, significantly less than the initial $15.4 million estimate.Officials have commented that the Jerry Dyer Memorial Bridge will provide an improvement to safety and convenience by adding a second way for emergency vehicles and other drivers to cross between the north and south sides of I-70. City leaders also believe that improved access to the western side of Warrenton will encourage new commercial development, including rejuvenating the rebranded Shoppes at Warrenton mall after years of decline.Rural King has already signed on to be a major anchor store for the mall area. The owners of land north and south of the interstate plan to eventually bring more developments, Thorn said.“Since we had the ribbon cutting, there have been some calls with interested parties inquiring about the area. We actually had some significant inquiries even prior to that,” Thorn said. “With the onset of Rural King construction starting this spring, we feel like that will be the major anchor that really starts the drive to have significant development.”Optimism, challenge for mallAlmost 25 years ago, the Warrenton Outlet Center officially opened for business with 31 stores during a boom of similar building projects. It offered bargain deals on well-known brands and drew shoppers out of the St. Louis area to visit Warrenton, which at the time had about half of its current population.But by the early 2010s, changing shopping habits were driving the mall into decline until it was nearly empty. Ownership of the mall changed hands and other, similar retail centers closer to St. Louis shoppers competed for the dollars that the Warrenton mall relied on.When city leaders brought forward a proposal for two sales taxes that would fund the interchange construction, bringing life back to the mall was at the forefront of the discussion.After a previous proposal to fund the interchange project was turned down by voters, Thorn said the current push picked up steam in 2015. Around that same time, Raul Walters Properties took over management of the mall with a plan to fill the nearly empty space.City leaders in 2016 asked voters to approve two half-cent sales taxes that would fund the interchange construction. Rural King expressed interest in the mall prior to that vote, and in March 2018 announced that it had put a contract on land to build next to the existing mall.Part of the current push to reinvigorate the mall is a major tax incentive from the city of Warrenton. The city’s board of aldermen has approved the use of $6 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, to help reimburse the cost of redeveloping the mall. Up to $5 million of that could go to Rural King.Tax increment financing is a system in which the developer will front the cost for the project, then receive reimbursement from tax revenue generated at the mall.I-70 WEST WARRENTON INTERCHANGECity of Warrenton photo