While the idea of a new interchange on Interstate 70 won the approval of the Columbia City Council last night, a host of speakers helped persuade members to provide a list of several alternative locations for the crossing.
After more than two hours of discussion, the council voted 4-2 to amend the city’s Major Roadway Plan to call for an interchange west of Stadium Boulevard. The Kroenke Group has lobbied hard for the interchange as a potential access to a Wal-Mart SuperCenter it hopes to build west of Columbia Mall. City officials hope it will relieve congestion on Stadium Boulevard to the east.
The original proposal before the council, sought by the Kroenke Group and approved by the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization, called for creating the interchange by extending Scott Boulevard and Route E to I-70 from the south and north, respectively.
After at least 15 people spoke out against the amendment and recommended alternative locations be considered, however, the council altered the language of the amendment to include Routes TT, UU, ZZ and E as potential locations for the interchange.
The council also amended the plan to include a call for studies on the project’s potential impact on area residents and creeks. It also removed from the amendment a map of the proposed interchange that showed the extensions of Scott Boulevard and Route E.
The changes are intended to make potential locations for the interchange less specific but still detailed enough to make the project eligible for federal money.
“If you delete the map, the language in the ordinance is specific enough because it mentions a new interchange to I-70,” city Planning Director Roy Dudark said.
Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton and Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Loveless opposed the amendment.
Mayor Darwin Hindman, attending his first council meeting since taking a leave of absence to have his esophagus surgically removed, said the adjusted language of the amendment doesn’t ensure the interchange won’t be built with an extension of Scott Boulevard.
“As I look at the geography, I don’t see how Scott Boulevard is ever going to be spared,” he said. “It’s going to happen sooner or later.”
Because the Kroenke Group paid for the study that helped produce the amendment, some Columbia residents have accused city officials of catering to the developer rather than protecting the community’s best interest. That theme was repeated Monday night.
“Both studies were commissioned and paid for by highly interested parties,” resident Russell Geen told the council. “You don’t have to be a trained scientist to be skeptical of that kind of data.”
Norbert Schumann also protested. “It’s not fair for someone to take our city hostage,” he said. “It all leads to the Wal-Mart parking lot.”
Council members, however, emphasized that those concerns might be premature. Construction on the Wal-Mart project is a long way off and depends on many other decisions, including rezoning of the land and approval of site-development plans, they said.
Approval by the council simply acts as a “placeholder” to indicate the city’s general interest in a new I-70 interchange west of Stadium, council members said.
The interchange concept remains subject to study and approval by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which could take up the issue as soon as this month, according to the Planning Department.
In other action Monday night, the council held the first in a series of public hearings on the proposed budget for fiscal 2004.. Two more hearings are planned before the council gives the budget final approval on Sept. 15.
Missourian reporter Kelly Snowden contributed to this report.