ASHLAND — Around 7:30 a.m. on any workday, drivers leaving Ashland can be seen waiting on congested roads, blinkers ready, with grim expressions as they wait to merge onto U.S.63.
The Missouri Department of Transportation is at work on a project to alleviate the frustration.
MoDOT plans to construct two new roundabouts on the exits of Ashland’s overpass and a J-turn on the highway. Crossovers at Liberty Lane and Peterson Lane South of Ashland will be removed, and the J-turn will be put in place south of the current Peterson Lane crossover.
It will cost MoDOT $2 million for the two roundabouts and J-turn, making it a relatively small project — most cost 10 times that, roughly $20 million-30 million.
But the project will remove cross-traffic intersections and reduce the number of accidents the area sees, said MoDOT project manager Mike Dusenberg.
The once-small town has seen a large influx in its population, almost tripling since 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This caused problems the town wasn’t used to having — frequent traffic jams and increasing numbers of accidents.
Police Chief Lyn Woolford said it’s just part of a growing town.
Catherine Hoard, 23, moved to Ashland four years ago from St. Louis. Even four years ago, the traffic was minimal compared to the current situation, she said.
“Before, I could get to Columbia in 20 minutes and to my work in one minute,” Hoard said. “With the population increase, it’s a lot more complicated.”
There are days when it takes her 15 minutes to get to work, she said.
Dusenberg described Ashland as a “bedroom community” for both Columbia and Jefferson City. He said the town's population increase is a direct result of growth in both cities, and Ashland now serves as a commuter town.
“So I think there is some aggravation … disappointment that our little city is growing and the traffic just comes with that,” Woolford said.
MoDOT has been watching the area for quite a while, Dusenberg said, and the relatively small project has been in the works for about a year now.
Hoard, however, said she is not a fan of roundabouts.
“Everybody bullies themselves into (roundabouts), and you end up waiting to get in just as long,” she said. “I don’t think it will solve the problem.”
Construction for the project will begin over the summer, with work scheduled for completion before school starts, Dusenberg said.
“There will be obviously lane drops, speed limits will be slowed down and they’ll have to pay attention to the signs,” he said.
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Judd Slivka.