The Missouri Department of Transportation is examining how to adapt a plan for truck-only lanes on Interstate 70 to fit Columbia’s narrow available space and heavy local traffic.
The department’s plan was presented to the Columbia Improve I-70 Community Advisory Group on Wednesday at the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center.
The truck lanes are an expansion of an earlier plan to widen the interstate to accommodate more traffic.
That plan was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in December 2001. When funding wasn’t immediately available, the department’s consultants started looking at ways to separate truck traffic from other traffic, said senior environmental specialist Matt Burcham.
“A main theme we heard there was, ‘Do something with the trucks,’” he said.
While a grass median could divide truck traffic and multi-use lanes for most of the interstate, the 18-mile stretch between Routes J and Z present problems. It would have to be narrowed to accommodate frequent merging as there is little room available for lane expansion, said Kenny Voss, Transportation Department project manager.
The community advisory group discussed whether to divide the truck lanes from the multi-use lanes with a physical barrier or just a solid line trucks could only cross in designated areas.
Voss said the physical barriers would more effectively separate trucks from other traffic, but barriers would also widen the project so that it couldn’t fit in the space the interstate occupies now.
The option without physical barriers would be more flexible for reallocating lanes, less costly and take up less space, he said, but it wouldn’t provide the same level of control over the truck lane traffic.
Tom Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Motor Carriers Association, said truck-only lanes would be a sensible way to improve safety for truck drivers and other commuters. He said the Columbia area is especially dangerous because there are so many interchanges in a short distance.
“I think it’s important to limit those interactions between the cars and trucks,” he said.
With truck lanes, the statewide project would cost about $3.5 billion, Burcham said. He said the initial plan for widening Missouri’s portion of the interstate, which did not include the truck lanes, would have cost about $3 billion.
The Transportation Department plans to complete the study on truck-only lanes by the end of 2008, department spokesman Bob Brendel said. It would then be up for federal approval alongside the earlier plan.
Funding for the improvements have not been identified and would come from sources such as the Missouri General Assembly or the federal government. Some possible sources include a sales tax or toll roads, Burcham said. However, adding tolls would require voters to amend Missouri state law.
Construction won’t begin until funding has been secured.