Columbia’s Interstate 70 interchanges will change dramatically if and when the highway is widened to eight lanes through the city, but exactly how remains to be seen.
That’s why the Improve I-70 Advisory Group will meet at 4 p.m. today to review alternatives for reworking each interchange, both to accommodate the widening and to improve future traffic flow.
The members hope to decide on the best approach for each interchange and then have consultant CH2M Hill meld those selections into a single, comprehensive “preferred alternative” for widening the highway.
The advisory group has met since 2002 to review alternatives for improving the interstate through Columbia in conjunction with a plan to widen and improve the interstate across Missouri. That plan, which carries an estimated price tag of $3 billion, remains years away and lacks any source of funding.
After holding several public hearings, the group decided against a bypass and in favor of widening the highway through Columbia.
The advisory group has now turned its attention to the interchanges. Alternatives for every intersection in town, for a couple of new ones and for interchanges east and west of Columbia will be presented. The options vary in many respects, including the number of traffic lights proposed and the alignment of ramps and frontage roads.
Perhaps most challenging for engineers is how to safely accommodate a wider interstate and accompanying traffic in an area known as “the triplets,” or the I-70 interchanges at Providence Road, Range Line Street and Business Loop 70.
Two proposals for “the triplets” will be presented this afternoon. One calls for drivers to access the highway using ramps connected to Business Loop 70 or Vandiver Drive. The other calls for access from frontage roads. Although the ramps would provide safer and faster access, they cannot be accessed from surrounding areas, according to CH2M Hill. Although the frontage roads provide better access to homes and businesses, they are less safe and slow traffic.
Buddy Desai, project manager for CH2M Hill, cautioned that even the plan selected today will be tentative. He said engineers hope to have a final plan by early 2005.
Meanwhile, the Columbia Area Transportation Study Organization is keeping a close eye on the developing plan for I-70 and trying to develop strategies for extending and connecting city streets to the improved highway. CATSO’s Technical Committee on Wednesday reviewed a report mentioning several potential road projects that could accompany a wider interstate, including extensions of Fairview Road and Scott Boulevard on the west side and of Ballenger Lane on the east.
CATSO hopes to review the I-70 advisory team’s preferred alternative in late May and to hold its own public hearing in August, according to a May 7 memo from the I-70 group.
Missourian reporter Arthur Wedler contributed to this report.