COLUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Transportation is scheduled to host a public session in Columbia Wednesday about truck-only lanes on Interstate 70.
The truck-only lanes have received preliminary approval from the Federal Highway Administration. The proposal is a new strategy for the Improve I-70 program that seeks to widen the interstate across Missouri.
WHAT: Missouri Department of Transportation public hearing for Improve I-70 project
WHEN: 4-7 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.
The state and federal agencies have studied ways to improve the 50-year-old interstate since 1999. The most recent study, completed in 2006, recommended expanding rural stretches of the interstate to six lanes. According to the design, the stretch in Columbia between Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63 would be expanded to eight lanes.
That plan also suggested that the state redesign and rebuild certain interchanges and bridges.
The new strategy still calls for rebuilding and widening the interstate to eight lanes through Columbia. The entire interstate will be eight lanes, with two lanes in each direction for general traffic and two lanes in each direction for trucks.
Bob Brendel, outreach coordinator for MoDOT, said the retooled plan with truck lanes would require no additional land than earlier designs.
This alternative, Brendel said, arose from public concerns of mounting truck traffic and a national effort to improve freight flow.
"We have heard overwhelming support," Brendel said. The goal of the hearings being held around the state, he said, "is to determine if this strategy fits within the footprint the previous study identified."
Columbia officials could not comment on the city's position in the matter.
Even though the response to creating lanes dedicated to truck traffic has been positive, Brendel said there is no funding available for the project's estimated cost of $3.9 billion. But the department will continue the process, which Brendel said would allow construction to begin more quickly should funding become available.
Officials at the public session will present a report evaluating how the truck-only lanes alter the effects and recommendations found in earlier studies. Brendel said a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation funded the latest study.
The report states truck lanes would enhance safety, decrease travel times and increase efficient movement of goods. Such lanes would better handle the weight of large commercial vehicles and could ease traffic flow in times when general traffic lanes are closed.
The truck-only lanes span a 200-mile corridor from Independence to Lake St. Louis. Some more complicated ramps, including those at Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63, would be redone to provide semis interchanges to their specified lanes.
Such studies are required for the state to receive federal funding for major highway improvements, which can cover up to 80 percent of the costs.
Following the hearings, Brendel said the transportation department evaluates the public comments and determines if it must make changes to the plan. A final draft of the document goes to the Federal Highway Administration for approval. The state Highways and Transportation Commission gives final approval. Then, Brendel said, the plan will "sit on the shelf" until funding becomes available.
"The funding decision will be made by somebody other than MoDOT," he said. "The legislature or citizens will determine at what level they want to fund. It's an expensive project that would require funding above the level at which MoDOT is funded today."
The Improve I-70 program reported that commercial trucks account for 30 percent of the highway's daily traffic. That traffic is expected to double by 2030.