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Gans Road extension plans will involve landowners, public

Pecan farmer, owner of Civil War-era home unsure of potential impact.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 | 6:46 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A car drives past George Montgomery's pecan field off Missouri 163 where the Gans Road will possibly be extended. If the extension is approved, the first row of Montgomery's pecan trees will have to be taken out. Montgomery grows 15 to 17 different varieties of northern pecans in his front yard, harvesting more than 2.5 tons each year. Montgomery is concerned that if the extension goes through this area will become highly commercial.

George Montgomery, a local pecan farmer, might have to say goodbye to a few of his 200 pecan trees and welcome a new extension of Gans Road in their place.

IF YOU GO

A public hearing on proposed alignments for the extension of Gans Road will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at Rock Bridge Elementary School, 5151 S. Highway 163.


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Montgomery is one of several landowners who could be directly affected by the Gans Road extension, which will connect Providence and Bearfield roads. A retired chief engineer for the Columbia Public Works Department, Montgomery has designed many roads for Columbia over the course of his career. Since retiring, however, pecan farming is his source of income. But now his trees might fall within the direct line of the road, which city and county officials plan to establish as a major east-west thoroughfare between U.S. 63 and Providence Road.

Montgomery's 10 acres of property along Missouri 163 is right next door to Rock Bridge Elementary School. The brick house with brown trim where Montgomery lives with his wife, Lynn, also features numerous rows of lean, identical brown and green pecan trees, some of which he planted 20 years ago as saplings. They still will have the capacity to produce pecans for at least 100 more years, he said.

Montgomery, who mostly sells the nuts to individuals, does all the work by himself.

"The work is year-round," he said, and the pruning, mowing, trimming, irrigation and pest control keeps him busy. With harvest season approaching and continuing through November, Montgomery can expect to spend a minimum of 16 hours a day in the next six to eight weeks working in his pecan grove.

"You pretty much have to be out in the orchard every day," Montgomery said.

The extension of Gans Road, however, could cost Montgomery a lot of money in lost pecan production. Because a specific plan for the extension has not yet been decided, though, the extent of the impact remains unknown to him.

Other landowners are also undecided about how the expansion will affect their properties. Henry Hager, a professor emeritus of journalism at MU, lives across the road from Montgomery on 1.5 acres.. Like his pecan-growing neighbor, Hager's property also has an atypical feature on his property.

"What's interesting about the house is that it was built during the Civil War," Hager said.

Tucked away on a gravel road only wide enough for one car to pass and surrounded by trees, is the Hager's 1863 white-sided farmhouse. When he and his wife, Laura, bought the house in 1985, it was already restored and in good enough condition, and Hager chose not to remodel.

"It's was in good shape, and I think we've done a good job in keeping it up."

Like Montgomery, he is unsure how the new Gans Road will affect his property. But the Hagers and their neighbors, might soon have a better idea what to expect.

Three different alignments developed by a study team for the extension will be presented in a public meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the Rock Bridge Elementary School gymnasium.

Surrounding landowners and the public are invited to provide input on which alignment they prefer, according to a city news release. Bartlett & West, the engineering firm hired to conduct the $132,000 study, will present the alignments, along with factors that might constrain the project.

Project constraints include steep topography, proximity of existing developments, environmental concerns related to commercial development, the difficulty of crossing Clear Creek and the ability to accommodate existing and future traffic. The study team will also be available totake questions from the public.

Each of the three possible alignments would include a road with one travel lane in each direction, a median and roundabouts at primary intersections. The differences in the three alignments occur differ between Missouri 163 and Rock Quarry Road. Two of the alignment options are located closely to one another, while the third extends farther to the north, arching around problematic topography. David Mink, director of Boone County Public Works, said a plan would probably selected by the end of the year.

Montgomery and Hager plan to attend the upcoming meeting to see the different plans and to assess the possible impacts on their property.

The county is trying to involve the public as much as possible in the selection of an alignment, Mink said. In some cases, the county has been working with landowners one-on-one to avoid or minimize any impact that might occur. Hager said he greatly appreciates the effort the county has made to allow landowners and the public to participate and be a part of the decision.

In a meeting last April, members of the public were asked to identify possible issues related to the project, Bartlett & West project manager Bob Gilbert said. Although the alternative alignments were not yet created, the public was asked to look at the topography, utilities and existing developments and give feedback.

"Generally, we heard about the impact to the environment and the road proximity to Rock Bridge State Park," Gilbert said. "Residents were also concerned about managing access points along the road."

Both Montgomery and Hager attended the April meeting to learn about the study and provide input. Based on what he saw in April, Montgomery said he has mixed feelings on the project. He agrees the extension will eventually be needed, but the new road could come at a cost to him.

"I don't know if I'm for or against it," he said.

Residents also expressed concern about the roadway becoming a commercial corridor and becoming too congested.

"The integrity and character of the land is valuable," Gilbert said.

Montgomery, speaking from his experience with the Public Works Department, said there are underlying issues that accompany the extension of a major roadway. More specifically, when a major road is built, development is sure to follow, such as the commercial development that accompanied the extension of Forum Boulevard and Grindstone Parkway. Along the proposed Gans Road extension, commercial building could potentially be built near Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and the Gans Creek watershed.

"This type of development may not be appropriate," Montgomery said, adding that the city and county should adopt measures now to address the issue.

The alignment proposals contain features that address some of these issues the public has voiced. One-lane roads with medians are designed to limit access and avoid congestion, while roundabouts allow drivers to make U-turns. The landscaped median, not a common feature in Columbia roadways, is intended to address environmental concerns. The road will be pitched toward the median, Gilbert said, so that rainwater will flow from the roads and enhance the quality of storm water runoff.


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