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Options for College Avenue upgrades draw mixed reviews

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 | 11:53 p.m. CST; updated 7:02 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 26, 2014

COLUMBIA — Potential plans for improving safety on the stretch of College Avenue bordering MU drew the ire and admiration of the public Tuesday evening.

At the second public input meeting for the College Avenue safety project, the city revealed the eight draft plans on display boards. Members of the design team milled about the mezzanine conference room in the Daniel Boone City Building, explaining different aspects of each proposal to the public, including members of the media and two City Council members, Barbara Hoppe and Ian Thomas.

The design team's two preferred alternatives for the project, plans A and B, drew the most attention from the public. Both of the preferred alternatives featured a vertical barrier the length of College Avenue between University Avenue and Rollins Street in place of the center turn lane. Both plans would completely restrict left-turn access into and out of East Campus on Rosemary Lane, Wilson Avenue and Bouchelle Avenue.

Seven plans, including the two preferred ones, feature a crosswalk on each side of Wilson Avenue.

The aesthetics of the two barriers were of particular interest to people at the meeting. Besides cost of construction and maintenance, the physical appearances are the only distinction between the two plans. Plan A's barrier features a wrought-iron fence on a stone wall, and Plan B's barrier is a wrought-iron fence sitting 0n a raised median. Both barriers would be about 5 feet tall.

Denice and Phil Warnken, owners of several rental properties on East Campus, preferred option B. Denice Warnken didn't like Plan A's stone wall because she feared that it would be ruined by graffiti.

The loss of left-turn access didn't bother the Warnkens. Denice Warnken said she tries to avoid taking a left turn onto College Avenue out of East Campus anyway.

"It's dangerous, I don't want to hit anybody, and the kids are always jumping out of the fraternities and running across the street," she said about students, "so I just don't use it."

Not everyone echoed the Warnkens' sentiments, however. Bill Toalson, business manager for Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity on College Avenue, was upset about the proposed loss of left turns.

"It's going to add a lot of traffic back onto Wilson Avenue and Rosemary Lane, and neither one of those streets can handle it," Toalson said. 

The design team did its best to alleviate concerns. Linda Moen, a transportation engineer on the project, said East Campus could handle the loss of left turns.

"Everyone has a different opinion based on where they live, but if you look at it, William (Street) is not very far away," she said. "William Street is a low-volume road right now, and it's got a lot of capacity so most of the cars going down College Avenue can easily go through William Street and access everything the same way."

Moen added that the Missouri Department of Transportation would try to sync the H.A.W.K. signals, which would stop traffic at the proposed crosswalks, with the lights at University Avenue and Rollins Street intersections. This would minimize backlogs of cars at each crosswalk and travel time down the corridor. 

Another plan, option G, also drew considerable interest. It featured a vertical barrier down the full length of the corridor, but instead of a fence, it has a shorter wall with landscaping. Downtown Community Improvement District Director Carrie Gartner preferred the landscaping to options A or B.

"I think it makes a better gateway to that part of our city," she said.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Hoppe wanted more of the landscaping option.

"I thought the landscape median looked a little bare. I think more could be done with that," she said. "I'd like to see, and I think the public would like to see, some more landscape features included in that."

Hoppe liked the aesthetics of option B and also touched on her East Campus constituents' concerns about the loss of left turns.

"I'd like to see a left turn or it at least being looked at," she said.

East Campus resident Rick Shanker said the design effort was a waste of time and resources.

"The solution could be solved easily by putting a fence on the west side of the street where the university campus is and just herd the cattle that way," he said.

Shanker said students would cross the street only where there were breaks in the fence.

The option was considered but rejected, said Julie Nolfo, an MU traffic consultant and a member of the design team.

"It doesn't really solve the problem. If you put a fence on the west side, they can still cross the road at any location, and the problem would be that they'd get to the west side of the road and can't get into the campus," she said. "The purpose of the project is not to keep people out of the campus; it's to make people cross the road safely to get to the campus, so it didn't address the concerns at all."

Cliff Jarvis, capital improvement project supervising engineer for the city, said he hopes to have the final proposed design before the City Council within six months. The design team will review the public comment forms submitted at Tuesday's meeting, he said. An online comment form will also be available on the project website. The project is scheduled to be finished by the end of August 2015.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.


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