The movement to make the Highway 54 corridor between Mexico and Louisiana a shared four-lane highway moved a step forward — though there’s still no funding.
The Mark Twain Regional Council of Governments’ Transportation Advisory Committee, in conjunction with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), prioritized the corridor between both towns for the upgrade.
“This is a way to get a four-lane highway, which we desperately need for economic development,” Vandalia City Administrator Alan Winders said. “What we’re promoting is a shared four-lane Highway 54 from Mexico to Louisiana. It’s effectively a super two-lane highway with a lot of passing zones.”
Winders, also part of the Mark Twain council, stressed the project is still in a stage of infancy and the prioritization of the project is just one step in process for action.
“We have to stay diligent in keeping our eyes on the project,” he said.
Audrain County Commissioner Steve Hobbs said a time will come when MoDOT gets the money and is ready to start construction. He said MoDOT is working diligently to come together on the project but actually getting the new highway may be five or 10 years down the road.
“There’s going to be a time when the funding is available and the project will be ready to go,” Hobbs said.
“It’s a long-term project, but we feel MoDOT is working with us,” Winders said. “Everything positive that happens on the projects helps move it forward.”
Hobbs said the upgrade to the highway would keep Highway 54 in the same right-of-way.
He said only if a traditional four lane was built would the highway be re-routed outside of town, which may cut traffic from towns based along the Highway 54 corridor.
“You can’t do that to those businesses,” Hobbs said referring to re-routing Highway 54. “We want those businesses to thrive.”
“That’s the beauty of a shared four lane, you follow the same right-of-way and follow the same route,” he said.
“This puts us on a much better transportation grid,” Winders said. “It is a way to create a link from the Lake of the Ozarks to Highway 61.”
He said the upgrade links Highway 54 with other major roadways and creates more traffic flow through Vandalia and other towns along Highway 54. More flow creates the potential for economic development and business.
Hobbs said another aspect of the project is linking the highway upgrade with other in-the-works projects, such as the Champ Clark Bridge in Louisiana —which suffers from the same financial woes as upgrades coming to Highway 54 — or other Louisiana projects. He said the link with the Champ Clark Bridge would also open a connection to Highway 72 in Illinois, connecting to transportation routes flowing to Chicago.
He said lumping the projects is a way to provide a greater interest for MoDOT to jump on the projects. Hobbs said the idea is to have everything organized and simply hand plans over to MoDOT once its ready to go.
“We’re preparing for the day when MoDOT is ready to build,” Hobbs said.