COLUMBIA — With nearly 10,000 trucks traveling Interstate 70 daily, the Missouri Department of Transportation aims to improve safety and alleviate traffic with a proposal to add truck-only lanes.
The proposed design would separate cars and trucks by adding four center lanes for motor carrier vehicles — two lanes going eastbound and two westbound. A 30 foot-wide grass barrier would separate the inner truck lanes from the two adjacent car lanes.
The transportation department displayed the proposal to Columbia residents Thursday night at a public hearing.
“Cars being separated from trucks will be an obvious safety improvement,” said Kenny Voss, the transportation department’s project manager for the design.
Voss said that nearly 27 percent of accidents involve a truck and, of those, 38 percent are fatalities. He cited several other advantages to having the separate truck lanes, including improved traffic flow when an accident blocks lanes.
“The nice thing about this concept is if there’s an accident you can move everyone on to the other lanes,” Voss said. “There’s the possibility of using heavier trucks because the thickness of those lanes will be greater.”
According to the design, trucks exit from ramps leading into the car lanes, where they would yield to traffic and have approximately 1,500 feet to get to the highway exit. On high traffic exits, such as ones near St. Louis and Kansas City, the trucks would exit off their own ramps.
The cost is estimated at $3.5 billion to $4 billion. Currently, there is no funding for this project. The federal government has earmarked about $5 million for the study into the “Corridors of the Future,” which will include adding this design to several other states. This design to separate the trucks from cars has not been used anywhere in the country yet.
Rick Lindemann, who owns land bordering I-70 in Kingdom City, said he likes the design and came to the public hearing to see how much land would be needed for the new design.
“It’s a good idea to separate the trucks and cars just because of the amount of traffic on that road,” Lindemann said. “Especially on summer weekends, and have you ever tried to go on there at Thanksgiving Day weekend?”
An officer from the Missouri State Highway Patrol stopped by the public hearing to find out about the plans. Cpl. Paul Meyers said separating professional drivers like truckers from cars was a good idea. He said the different attitudes on the road sometimes conflict with each other.
He said separating them will make pulling over cars easier.
“For truckers, it’s a game to see if they can blow our hats off as they go by. They go 70 mph behind you and it’s not all that fun,” Meyers said.
For state patrol officers, getting to the center truck lanes may be difficult if they are separated by a grass barrier, Meyers said.
“You might get a drunk driver wander onto the truck lanes and we can’t get over to them,” Meyers said.
Transportation department officials said they have consulted with major truck industries about their designs.
Lori Hauxwell, vice president of Davison Distribution, a Columbia truck company, had several questions about the safety of trucks merging from the left into car traffic.
“My main concern is the distance the trucks have to merge from their lanes,” Hauxwell said. “I would say it needs at least a mile, and in the congested areas you’re not going to get that. Trucks have to have enough distance to slow down ... It’ll be a challenge entering from the left side.”