COLUMBIA — Rustic Road is a winding, gravelly, mile-long pass that feels far removed from city life. Well-marked mailboxes are the strongest indication that residences, typically set back from the roadway, inhabit the area.
Rustic Road enjoys a rare aura of privacy, despite falling mostly within city limits.
Sue and Dick Underwood moved to Columbia 25 years ago from Ashland because they wanted better access to a hospital. Finding their current home on the corner of Rustic was “a godsend,” Sue said, because it has allowed them to enjoy “the best of both worlds”: city amenities amid country surroundings.
But the Underwoods know a major drawback to straddling these two worlds is the knowledge that at some point, one may overtake the other.
The fast-growing city of Columbia has seen increased traffic on Route WW, which is nearly visible from the Underwoods’ home. “In limbo” is how several Rustic residents say they’ve been living — not knowing which homes will be displaced by imminent projects or how property values will be affected by the closer proximity of major roads.
On May 22, the Missouri Department of Transportation presented a progress report with its recommended extension of Stadium Boulevard. The “SC-2A” plan would extend eastward from Highway 63 to meet Interstate-70 at the Lake of the Woods exit. Like other routes that had been considered, it would also extend Ballenger Lane over I-70 to meet the Stadium extension and would widen Route WW.
Though far from a go-ahead for the project, the proposed alignment does bring MoDOT a step closer to the long-discussed extension of Stadium Boulevard.
According to the report, the proposed alignment would displace 13 homes and eight businesses along Rustic Road and Grace Lane, but it did not specify which addresses would be affected.
“I want it to go right through my living room,” said Jim Davenport, who lives across the road from the Underwoods on four acres of land. He’s lived on that land for 40 years. Davenport said his biggest concern is that the road project would come within mere feet of his home, “just close enough” that he and his wife would have to stay on the land, which has been in the family of his wife, Nancy, for 60 years.
Davenport clipped the front-page article of the May 23 Columbia Daily Tribune that cited the likely residential displacements and traced his finger over the small map of the SC-2A route in an effort to determine whether his wish would come true.
It’s hard to tell. Several residents likely to be affected complain that the maps offered by MoDOT at the public comment sessions and elsewhere are too small and require a great deal of guessing. From the map, it looks as if the extension might cut between the Davenports’ home and that of Jim’s daughter, Pam Tillotson. She has lived on Rustic just east of her father since 1987 and runs a preschool from her home.
She and her husband, Bill Tillotson, understand the impetus behind the project.
“The need for it out here is tremendous,” Pam said, noting that traffic has gotten worse and that “Columbia has grown in every single direction except for east.”
“We’re for progress,” said Bill. “If we have to be displaced for progress, so be it.”
They have also been told by friends and acquaintances involved with local construction projects that the state will be fair, Pam said.
But the Tillotsons would like to see more of a timetable for the proposed projects and clearer communication about which homes will be affected.
The Tillotsons have been putting things off in terms of home improvements for about the past two years, ever since project planning began to intensify.
Likewise, the Davenports want to redo their driveway and install new carpeting but have hesitated now that the project — whose discussion, Jim recalls, has been ongoing for several decades — is a step closer to reality.
The original budget for the study itself — nearly $1 million, which comes jointly from MoDOT, the city and Boone County — was adopted about two years ago, said Buddy Desai, the consultant project manager for the study.
Desai works for consulting and engineering firm CH2M HILL, which assisted with the study last year. CH2M HILL issued the recommendation for the SC-2A route based on factors such as environmental impact, residential relocations, business locations and cultural resource issues.
The firm’s next step is to write a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which will explain why the preferred route was chosen. Desai said plans could change, which is one reason the Transportation Department has not reached out to specific landowners.
“We can’t be definitive about it until the very end of the project,” which would be the release of the draft statement, Desai said.
But he added: “It’s not a secret or anything.” Residents are welcome to contact MoDOT, with the understanding that the current “preferred” route is still subject to change.
Tim Teddy, planning and development director for the city, emphasized that the project is a study at this point and “not a roadway design.” Teddy expects a public hearing will occur in late fall, when the public can comment on the proposed route.
CH2M HILL would then prepare a Final Economic Impact Statement, incorporating public comment and naming the proposed route as the “selected” alternative. Finally, the firm will write a final Record of Decision.
The Federal Highway Administration signs off on each of these phases, but the exact route won’t be set in stone until it signs off on the ROD, Desai said.
The project’s subsequent moves forward are by no means certain.
“Right now neither the city nor the county nor MoDOT has funding identified for future phases of this project,” Desai said.
Teddy added that MoDOT recently indicated its lack of revenue for highway and bridge construction. Unless MoDOT finds a way to offset revenue losses, its priority will be maintaining existing roadways.
“It could very easily be 10 years from now,” Desai said, “but it could be at least three to five years before the building starts, at a minimum.”