Missouri highways panel hears regional transportation priorities

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 1, 2016 4:55 pm Updated: Sep. 1, 2016 6:04 pm

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Missouri's top transportation panel visited America's Hometown on Thursday and heard requests to build the Hannibal Expressway, extend interstate status along a section of U.S. 36, and upgrade U.S. 54 between the Mississippi River and Mexico, Mo.

As the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission held its monthly meeting in the Hannibal district office of the Missouri Department of Transportation, traffic along the Avenue of the Saints was within sight, with hundreds of heavy trucks passing along the busy route each hour.

Thomas Oakley, publisher of The Herald-Whig and a member of the Tri-State Development Summit's Transportation Committee, told commissioners that the Avenue of the Saints faces a bottleneck when it winds through Hannibal, where heavy trucks and cars often are involved in crashes.

"Hannibal has seven sets of traffic signals. By comparison, there are only two other traffic signals along the entire 580-mile Avenue of the Saints corridor," Oakley said.

The Federal Highway Administration and MoDOT released an analysis in 1996 that said when the Avenue of the Saints was completed -- as it was in 2008, creating a four-lane highway between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn. -- "through traffic" in Hannibal would mingle with local traffic, creating clogged streets and dangerous crashes.

Oakley urged the commission to get the Hannibal Expressway project "shovel ready" so it would be ready for construction when funds become available.

A 2007 study on the expressway, which would link U.S. 24 west of Hannibal to U.S. 61 south of town, estimated that it would cost $38 million.

Commission member John Briscoe of New London later praised Oakley and Hannibal businessman Tom Boland for promoting the Hannibal Expressway. Briscoe also downplayed concerns that moving traffic off U.S. 61 would hurt local businesses.

"I do not believe it can possibly have a negative effect on Hannibal," Briscoe said.

MoDOT also was asked to elevate the designation of U.S. 36 to Interstate 72 from its current end point at U.S. 61 in Hannibal to its intersection with U.S. 24 about seven miles west of the city. Oakley showed aerial pictures of the intersections showing they are built to interstate standards, which might make the cost of an I-72 designation inexpensive.

"There is substantial vacant ground on both sides of the highway for restaurants, additional motels, retail, manufacturing, distribution, hospital and clinic expansion, as well as the newly approved certified industrial park," Oakley said.

Speakers from the U.S. 54 Corridor Coalition asked MoDOT to consider making the two-lane section of U.S. 54 between the Mississippi River and Mexico, Mo., a "shared-four." A similar configuration is used along Mo. 5 from Camdenton to Lebanon, Mo., where a three-lane highway alternates every few miles between two lanes for eastbound traffic and two lanes for westbound. The extra lane allows passing, and the three-lane highway also has dedicated left-turn lanes at intersections.

"We're happy to see the Champ Clark Bridge construction project, and when it opens we don't want (a two-lane U.S. 54) to be a bottleneck," said Steve Hobbs, Audrain County's presiding commissioner.

Mike Reed, superintendent of the Sny Island Levee Drainage District on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, also urged MoDOT officials not to rely on an earthen embankment on the Illinois side to protect the bridge approach and highway when the Mississippi floods.

Reed said the Champ Clark Bridge has closed on the Illinois side of the river four times since 2001 because of floods.

Commission Chairman Gregg Smith and member Tom Waters said they were impressed with the Tri-State Development Summit's ability to work across state lines on transportation corridors and other important matters.

"I'm inspired by the collaboration I see here," Waters said.

The commission also recognized a MoDOT work crew in Scotland County for creating a tractor-mounted weed trimmer that has improved safety by eliminating the need for workers to use hand-held trimmers along guardrails.