By Stan Schwartz
If you’ve ever been behind a slow vehicle on Hwy. 54 somewhere between Mexico and Louisiana, then you’ve probably uttered a few expletives and hoped for a passing lane.
Last week, MoDOT staff members and engineering consulting firm members held two public informational hearings so people could see what it would look like to add a third lane to Hwy. 54. The first hearing was in Audrain County at the Community R-VI school and the second took place at Bowling Green R-I’s High School.
According to MoDOT, the expansion of the Hwy. 54 corridor has been discussed since the early 1990s. Back then they were planning a four-lane alignment for that route. Even though preliminary planning took place, the project was not started because of a lack of funds.
The project to add a third lane to Hwy. 54 has not been funded either. It would be like Rt. 5, which connects Camdenton and Lebanon. The passing lane would alternate between east- and west-bound traffic on Hwy. 54.
Project Manager Chris Knapp there was a lot of interest during the meeting at Scotts Corner.
According to MoDOT, the best option to improve safety and efficiency is to incorporate a shared, four-lane design by adding that third, passing lane. Doing this, they said would improve travel for drivers and reduce maintenance and materials costs.
Knapp said funding would be determined by the public’s interest in making the project happen.
“All of our planning comes from the regional planning commission,” he said. “Projects are identified by priorities and then it would compete against other projects (for funding).”
The way the project is laid out, Bruce Green with Bartlett & West said, it would be done in sections and would take several years to complete.
“That would be beneficial from a cost and construction standpoint,” he noted. If they did get funding for one of the sections, he explained, they would have to do the detailed environmental work and the detailed design. “We’re talking 3 to 5 years,” he said, before that section would be done.
Then they would need to look at right of way and the possible moving of utilities along the route. Total cost to complete the entire 58.6-mile section of Hwy. 54 is just shy of $125 million.
By implementing a third passing lane, MoDOT estimates a 25% reduction in traffic collisions.
The areal maps of the proposed project shows MoDOT adding the third lane outside of the towns along this corridor. Knapp also said they would try not to place the passing lane where there would be a left turn from that lane onto a county road. They would have to install signs that warn drivers to watch for left-turning vehicles.
“You try to avoid bridges and you try to avoid major intersections,” said Bruce Green with Bartlett & West. There were some areas where MoDOT had to convert the passing lane into a left-turn lane because of the volume of traffic.
Pike County Western District Commissioner Brock Bailey came to the meeting to lend his support for the project. He had also attended the meeting the previous night.
Bailey explained that if enough people want this project done, then it would move to the top of