Towns on I-70 are optimistic for interstate expansion

Adam Rollins, Staff Writer
Posted 3/6/23

In his annual “State of the State” address in January, Gov. Mike Parson announced that he is making it a priority to push for an $859 million project to add an extra lane on Interstate 70 …

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Towns on I-70 are optimistic for interstate expansion


In his annual “State of the State” address in January, Gov. Mike Parson announced that he is making it a priority to push for an $859 million project to add an extra lane on Interstate 70 from Wentzville to Warrenton, along with widening other parts of I-70 in Kansas City and Columbia.

Citing a record budget surplus, Parson said Missouri needs to take this chance to improve a vital travel corridor that is becoming more and more congested.

“For years, congestion, traffic accidents, and delays have become serious issues for commuters on I-70. Not only are we concerned for motorist safety, these inefficiencies are costly to our state’s economy,” Parson said. “To those who say we can’t afford it, I say we can’t afford not to. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the time is now.”

Parson choosing to emphasize expansion of I-70 as a top priority is almost a dream come true for Warren County communities situated along the interstate. Local community and business leaders in Warrenton, Wright City, and Truesdale have been calling for improvements to support a growing amount of commuter traffic, as well as to encourage investment from new manufacturing businesses who are looking for easier access to a key shipping corridor.

Of course, such a major construction project won’t come without some major headaches, and it will take a number of years to plan and build, assuming it gets funded by the Missouri Legislature. But those growing pains will be worth the benefits, according to leaders of three towns who spoke with the Warren County Record.

Traffic improvements

One of the immediate and universally agreed benefits of expanding I-70 would be relief from traffic congestion that can slow the interstate to a crawl, particularly when there’s been a vehicle crash.

Wright City Alderman Kim Arbuthnot, who works as office manager for Wright City Fire Protection District, said she sees safety improvements as one of the most impactful upsides of expansion. She said emergency workers respond to a huge number of vehicle collisions on I-70.

“Wright City Fire is on the interstate for 25 percent of the calls that we run, because of that congested traffic coming back and forth from the Lake of the Ozark,” Arbuthnot explained. “I think if I-70 is able to be expanded, that would have huge potential for the safety of first responders and for citizens going back and forth on the interstate.”

Aldermen in other areas agreed, identifying tourism traffic as a major cause of congestion that would be eased by additional travel lanes.

“It’s going to, without question, ease some of the traffic that we see, especially during the summer months with folks coming back from Lake of the Ozarks,” commented Warrenton Alderman Larry Corder. “I also think it will help with accidents. Hopefully we’ll see less of those.”

Economic optimism

Interstate expansion would also make Warren County more marketable for economic development, local leaders say. I-70 is a major corridor for shipping, and an expansion would increase the interstate’s capacity to handle more commercial traffic coming to and from Warren County. 

Convincing new manufacturers that Warren County has everything they need for a thriving business is part of a regional economic development goal, in which products that are made in Warren County are sold elsewhere, bringing new money into local communities.

“I think there’s a lot of benefits there,” commented Truesdale Alderman Robert Green, who represents the city on the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council. “For economic development, it’s going to be huge. ... It’s going to be good for truckers.”

Warrenton city leaders agree that better traffic flow from Warren County eastward would be a big benefit.

“I look forward to our community having opportunities for businesses to move westward, knowing that going back into the St. Louis and St. Charles area will be a lot smoother of a drive,” commented Alderman Corder of Warrenton.

Community improvement

In Wright City, another important benefit local leaders are hoping to receive from the I-70 project is improvements to the connecting roads surrounding the interstate. Wright City’s exit 200 at Elm Street is notorious for only having partial on and off ramps, and for a number of other traffic risks that need to be addressed.

“That’s probably the most dangerous area for traffic in Wright City,” commented Alderman Ramiz Hakim. “It’s a miracle we haven’t seen more accidents there, to be quite frank.”

Wright City officials said they’re hoping to see exit 200 closed and have a new interchange opened just down the road, such as at Highway J or Stringtown Road.

“That would also do wonders to reduce truck traffic that we see going through our downtown,” added Alderman Karey Owens. Most of those trucks are traveling to industrial businesses east of Wright City.

Along with that, having an improved interchange on the east side of Wright City would encourage more traffic to hop off the interstate and stop at businesses along the outer roads aldermen said.

Another tangential benefit Wright City is hoping for is a cleaner appearance along the interstate and outer roads that are all maintained by Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). Alderman Hakim commented that fencing and other features along I-70 give a bad first impression of Wright City. Giving a better first impression would also make Wright City more welcoming to new businesses, Hakim added.

“Anything that’s on the I-70 corridor, I think they’re going to try to pack as much into that as they can,” added Wright City Mayor Michelle Heiliger.

To a lesser extent, Warrenton is also hoping to see some improvements to the older of its two interstate exits, as well as others along the I-70 corridor.

“I think this is a great time to evaluate some of these on and off ramps in the area, maybe reroute them or make them a little longer,” commented Warrenton Alderman Jack Crump.

Construction challenges

Expanding I-70 would be a road construction project more massive than Warren County has seen in a lifetime. Local officials are clear-eyed in recognizing that the project won’t happen without some serious planning and some major headaches.

Truesdale Mayor Chris Watson said the latest information he’s received indicates that project planning for the expansion wouldn’t even be finished until mid-2024, meaning actual construction wouldn’t start until 2025 or later.

His counterpart in Warrenton, Mayor Eric Schleuter, said the community is going to have to be prepared to deal with the temporary inconvenience of construction.

“Construction always comes with challenges, no matter what,” commented Schleuter. “But MoDOT is pretty considerate about looking at traffic and trying to arrange work at the least inconvenient time.”

“I think the overwhelming need to plan I-70 for the coming years will outweigh some minor objections. You’re going to have those on any project,” agreed Warrenton Alderman Gary Miller.

Dealing with MoDOT

Although area leaders are enthusiastic about I-70 expansion overall, there is less local optimism for the prospect of effective communication from the Missouri Department of Transportation as the project progresses. City officials in Warrenton and Truesdale said they’ve had a history of MoDOT being slow to provide information, or declining to make improvements that local communities have asked for.

“Sometimes I get disheartened with MoDOT,” commented Warrenton Mayor Schleuter. However, the mayor and the city’s aldermen agreed that Warrenton’s representatives could take a more proactive approach to getting information from the state agency.

“With this project, it’s going to affect us hugely in Warrenton. It’s probably a good idea to try to have a monthly call or visit from MoDOT, and I hope that MoDOT would reach out to communities as well,” commented Warrenton Alderman Corder.

Mayor Watson of Truesdale was much more blunt with his feelings. “I don’t have any faith in MoDOT that they’re going to deal with anything if we do have an issue,” Watson commented. “They’re going to do what they want. They’re not going to tell us about it.”

Alderman Mike Thomas of Truesdale, who is in frequent contact with elected representatives in the Missouri Legislature, said he thinks these concerns have been heard and that state representatives will keep a close eye on MoDOT’s plans for I-70.

“Every state representative and senator I’ve talked to said MoDOT will be held highly accountable on this project,” Thomas noted. “If they’re going to get funding approval, there are going to have to be some guarantees and accountability."

Leaders in Wright City were the only ones to express general optimism for their relationship and communications with MoDOT. They noted that recent efforts to plan a new I-70 interchange at Stracks Church Road have built a good working relationship with state officials, especially with the help of a third-party engineering firm that is familiar with MoDOT and has also been involved in the Stracks Church project.

I-70 expansion, Interstate 70, Warrenton Board of Aldermen, Truesdale Board of Aldermen, Wright City Board of Aldermen, Economic development