"We’re setting a very aggressive timeframe,” the area engineer for Warren County says.
The project to add a third lane to Interstate 70 through Warren County and beyond could be finished in seven years, a Missouri Department of Transportation official said.
Jeff Niemeyer, area engineer for MoDOT covering Warren, Lincoln, and Montgomery counties, addressed Wright City officials July 20 during a listening session.
“But that’s the goal,” Niemeyer said. “Seven years from today is what we’re looking for completion. So we’re setting a very aggressive timeframe.”
Niemeyer and others were part of a MoDOT group were in Warrenton, Wright City and Truesdale for listening sessions as part of the I-70 expansion project that state lawmakers approved in May.
Lawmakers allotted $2.8 billion for the massive construction project that would improve 200 miles of highway.
The listening sessions are part of the first step as MoDOT begins work on the project.
“We’ve been going around to a lot of the towns and cities along the corridor,” Niemeyer said.
The corridor is from New Florence to Wentzville.
Niemeyer, Northeast District project manager Kim Trainor, and StratCommRX President Kelly Ferrara Bayne met with Warrenton officials on July 19, Wright City officials July 20, and Truesdale officials July 24.
A number of different issues were brought up during each meeting, though the biggest topics were around highway safety, exits, and the current service roads.
Wright City officials highlighted the issues with the current Exit 200, which only allows westbound drivers to exit and drivers getting on the interstate to head eastbound.
“If we’re going to spend $2.8 billion on this highway and we don’t fix the 200, that would be very unfortunate,” Heiliger said. “The citizens of this community would be very unhappy if nothing else comes out of this. They want that fixed.”
The MoDOT crew said they’d get the issue in their notes.
“As we look at how we improve I-70, we will try to incorporate what we can,” Trainor said. “The funding is for adding the third lane. There’s still lots to be discussed. Do interchanges get upgraded or do they not? It’s a fixed budget.”
“We’re just not that far along,” Niemeyer said.
A study from the early 2000s had recommended moving the exit. Discussion focused on the possibility of moving the interchange to Highway J or Stringtown Road, though no decisions were made during the listening session.
“Our biggest concern with this highway project is the highway’s going to be awesome, but it’s not going to mean anything if people can’t get on and off it,” Heiliger said. “If it’s too much of a hassle to get off at Wright City, they’re going to skip it and go to the next town. So that’s why these interchanges, for us, are so detrimental.”
Exit 200 wasn’t the only Warren County interchange officials drew attention to.
Warrenton and Truesdale officials also brought up Exit 193 onto Highway 47 in Warrenton.
Warrenton City Administrator Brandie Walters said their discussion with MoDOT focused on the westbound intersection with the north service road.
The discussion continued during the meeting with Truesdale officials.
“If you’re coming up to the Warrenton overpass at 3:30, 4:00, it’s getting Wentzville-like trying to get off there,” Truesdale Mayor Jerry Cannon said.
“I had a day where I was getting off the highway and the shoulder was backed all the way up,” Alderman Justin Naranjo said. “So it’s from the highway all the way down to the shoulder. Now people are having to divert off and wait because the turn lanes get so backed up.”
The first issue Wright City officials highlighted during their listening session was concerns about additional traffic on the service roads while I-70 was under construction.
“The experience we’ve had in the past of getting those roads addressed has not been great,” Wright City Mayor Michelle Heiliger said. “That corridor, especially right in front of the church on Highway 70, going under that bridge is terrible, especially on a Sunday with the lake traffic and everything else. So people are already avoiding Highway 70 and when the construction starts, it’s going to be worse. And so the side roads are going to take a beating.”
Trainor said there was nothing yet in place to handle the excess traffic.
“We don’t really have any designs and plans yet,” she told Wright City officials. “This is the stuff we’re going to take to form the plans.”
That led to a bigger discussion about the issues Wright City faces when there are traffic tie ups now on Interstate 70.
“Our city gets completely swamped with cars, then it comes to a complete standstill,” Police Chief Tom Canavan said. “Then we’ve got people driving off the highway onto the outer roads. It just gets very dangerous around here.”
Niemeyer did say MoDOT was considering different options for keeping traffic moving when construction starts, but “I’m not going to undersell it, there’s going to be impacts to traffic.”
Truesdale Police Chief Casey Doyle addressed the lack of dedicated turnarounds currently between the exits to Warrenton and Wright City.
“Just having a place where emergency personnel can turn around is greatly beneficial when something bad is happening,” Doyle said. “It’s also nice if you have to route vehicles through that, which we’ve occasionally had to do.”
The emergency turnarounds were part of a bigger overall discussion about safety on the expanded highway.
“I think the volume of traffic has just really increased over many, many years and it’s going to continue to increase,” Truesdale Planning and Zoning board member Kelly Riehl said.
“Coming this direction from Jonesburg to Warrenton, kind of out by the mall, that has always been a very, very bad spot,” Truesdale Treasurer Missy Bachamp said. “Lots and lots of accidents. I know they straightened something up, but there’s still lots of accidents in that area.”
Doyle said one of the most dangerous sections of the highway was a mile marker 195.2.
“If we have anything going on there or bad weather and vehicles come over those hills, it’s just a nightmare,” he said. “I think every tractor-trailer collision that we’ve handled has been right there in that one spot, at least in Truesdale.”
Wright City officials highlighted the area at Exit 200 as another dangerous trouble spot of the current highway.
“In the summertime, that lake traffic on a Friday night or on a Sunday or holiday weekend, … they know something’s going to happen,” Wright City Alderwoman Kim Arbuthnot said.
“That corridor right underneath the 200 through there, we call it the Wright City wiggle,” Heiliger said. “Somebody’s going to have an accident there.”
Alderman Ramiz Hakim said it doesn’t help that the storm drains there are clogged and that the section of roadway floods when a heavy rain comes through Warren County.
“You’ve got the curve and there’s a pool of water and it is very dangerous in the right lane,” Hakim said.
As Trainor emphasized to all officials, the listening sessions are being used to start the process and the conversation with those who will be most affected by the project.
MoDOT’s next step is to put together community advisory groups and then public meetings.
“Ideally, we’ll do the community advisory group meetings this fall and then probably do the public meetings once we’ve had a chance to digest that information and let the engineers work with the information they get from the community advisory groups and come back with something that the public could respond to at a public meeting,” Ferrara Bayne said.
In the meantime, Warren County residents can access all the I-70 project information, including the study from 20 years ago, at the main project website, modot.org/improvei70/home.
To find Warren County information in the older studies, search under Section 7.
“Anyone with questions, that’ll be the place to go,” Ferrara Bayne said. “What we want to do is condition people to go to that website so that they can start to see that seven-year project unfolding in front of them.”
The website also has a place for residents to ask questions and get responses from people working with MoDOT.
“The likelihood is if somebody in Truesdale posts a comment, it’ll come to my desk and we’ll be able to respond,” Ferrara Bayne said.
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com
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