COLUMBIA — OATS Executive Director Linda Yaeger summed up the Maguire Boulevard extension in two words: “It’s wonderful,” she said.
OATS, a public transportation provider, is one of the businesses closest to the extended section of the street in southeast Columbia. The city celebrated the completion of the street with a ribbon-cutting Monday afternoon. About 30 people attended.
The $6.9 million project, which has been the subject of debate for more than two decades, connects Maguire and Stadium boulevards. It gives those who work in the Concorde Office and Industrial Plaza on LeMone Industrial Boulevard a northern route out of the area.
City Manager Bill Watkins, Mayor Bob McDavid and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe spoke at the ceremony about the importance and challenges of the boulevard. Watkins cited weather and bridge problems as factors that delayed the project.
“Construction of Maguire Boulevard was a challenge,” he said.
Watkins and McDavid both talked about the need to provide more access for businesses along LeMone Industrial. Before the Maguire project, people who worked on the boulevard had only one entrance and exit, from or onto New Haven Road to the south. The lack of more exits contributed to long lines of traffic and to worries about public safety in case of a fire or another major emergency.
McDavid also talked about the extension being a factor in IBM coming to Columbia.
Initial plans called for extending LeMone Industrial, but the City Council in 2007 tweaked the plan. City staff recommended the Maguire extension instead because it's a little farther east of U.S. 63 than LeMone Industrial and would do more to reduce traffic congestion.
The Maguire project spans the North and South forks of Grindstone Creek. Over the years, many people worried that the project would harm the creek. At the ceremony, however, Hoppe said that despite problems with erosion during construction, the finished bridges will have little impact on the streams.
Businesses closest to the new boulevard are enjoying the extension. Carfax, which provides vehicle history reports on used cars, has 152 employees in Columbia. Debbie Schreimann, an office administrator at Carfax, guessed that 75 percent of the employees, including herself, are taking Maguire Boulevard to and from work.
“It is knocking anywhere from two to six minutes off commute time,” Schreimann said.
Schreimann said the faster commute time reduces stress. She also said the new road, which features bike paths and sidewalks, gives employees a place to stroll during breaks.
Yaeger said the new street prevents traffic problems and cuts down on time and tension for the 50 people who work at OATS.
“We had a terrible time getting out..." she said. "Some of the traffic (now) has the opportunity to go the other way.”