COLUMBIA — Just last week, the Columbia Police Department dispatched a traffic officer to the city's west side, where motorists turning onto Stadium Boulevard from Bernadette Street were blocking the intersection, aggravating an already congested evening rush.
It wasn't the first time an officer had been sent to deal with traffic in the area. And Sgt. Shelley Jones, who oversees the traffic division for the Police Department, expects those visits to continue as the holiday season attracts shoppers to the Columbia Mall and other nearby retailers.
"There are a high volume of cars going through that intersection," Jones said. "It just gets all tied up there."
Rush-hour gridlock and blocked intersections are symptoms of increasing traffic congestion around Stadium Boulevard and Interstate 70. To alleviate the recurring traffic headaches, the city has hired a consultant to explore construction and draft a proposal of a new interchange on I-70 about a mile west of Stadium.
Jones sees two major causes for Stadium's increased traffic volume: business development on the street and use of the thoroughfare to access the Walmart Supercenter on West Broadway as well as other nearby businesses.
"There's more businesses on Stadium," Jones said. "There's more people in Columbia."
The city has hired Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier Traffic and Transportation Engineers for $500,000 to conduct traffic counts, explore designs for a new interchange on I-70 and project future traffic flows that would result. The consultants would then draft a proposal to the city that would be passed to the state and Federal Highway Administration for final approval and funding. The $500,000 contract was included in the city's 2008 capital improvement budget.
Under the plan, Scott Boulevard would be extended north from its terminus at West Broadway and connect with the future interchange at I-70. The roadway would continue north of the highway to connect to the existing road network.
David Nichols, the city's chief engineer, said the city will eventually look at the possibility of building a new road from the interchange that would extend north to the Village at Monterey Hills, a neighborhood under construction on Route E just inside the city limits.
This isn't the first time a new I-70 interchange has been proposed just west of Stadium. In summer 2003, The Kroenke Group, a Columbia-based real estate development corporation, proposed extending Scott Boulevard to connect with a new I-70 interchange. The interchange was opposed by some who felt it would directly benefit a Walmart Supercenter and shopping mall that The Kroenke Group eventually built on West Broadway.
Later in 2003, the state Department of Transportation finished a study of the Stadium Boulevard corridor that concluded a new interchange was needed west of the city "because Stadium was maxed out and couldn't handle more traffic," Nichols said.
The Kroenke Group is not involved in the new interchange proposal, Nichols said.
Mike Dusenberg, district planning manager for the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, said "a corridor study was conducted in 2003 that looked at Stadium Boulevard and found there was a benefit to the system to provide another access off I-70 west of Stadium to help alleviate traffic growth due to potential development in this area of Columbia."
With the new interchange project in its infancy, questions of cost and design specifics await. Nichols said the estimated cost and source of funding has yet to be determined. He pointed to the new interchange on U.S. 63 at Gans Road as an indicator of cost. The new interchange — which opens after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Thursday — cost about $8 million.
Although an extension to Scott Boulevard would be a city project, it plans to seek state and federal financing for the interchange.
Currently, there is no funding for the interchange, Dusenberg said. Once the proposals are "complete and approved," Dusenberg said, "federal funding could be obtained, if available, to pay for any construction."
Nichols said the interchange could be a variety of designs, including the "folded diamond." Although he said a full clover-leaf design is a possibility, he doesn't believe there will be enough room for such a design.
The city is focusing on drafting a proposal and gaining approval from state and federal highway officials.
The city will also need to conduct an assessment of the proposed project, Dusenberg said, that looks at the impacts to the environment as well as to people and businesses in the area.
Since the last week of October, the consulting firm has been in the process of conducting traffic counts on numerous roads in the vicinity of Stadium and I-70.
After analyzing traffic trends — including those on I-70 — the consultants will move to the planning and designing portions of the proposal.
A timeline for the proposed interchange construction has not yet been determined. According to a consultant's report, the city is seeking to gain approval from the Federal Highway Administration within the next two years.