Following the Missouri Department of Transportation’s decision to postpone approving plans for construction on Range Line Street at the request of property owners, the North Columbia League adopted its own formal plan Tuesday to present to MoDOT.
The North Columbia League, an association of business and property owners with frontage along Range Line, was initially formed to lobby the government to accelerate expansion and improvement of Range Line. Now that those improvements are on the horizon, the league wants to ensure the work has a positive impact on the area, league Chairman Cris Burnam said.
“Range Line is one of the fastest growing corridors in Missouri, and not a particularly safe one,” he said. “This area of town is finally showing a renaissance — and not just growth, but positive growth, and we have all seen our businesses affected by traffic issues.”
Built with businesses in mind
While MoDOT and the League are eager for the highway improvements, Burnam said the league wants to modify MoDOT’s plan by providing more access to businesses in the corridor.
MoDOT plans to widen Range Line to four lanes from Big Bear Boulevard north to Prathersville Road. Its plan calls for a raised median along the entire stretch, with breaks at the intersections of Rain Forest Parkway/Kennesaw Ridge Road and Shalimar Drive, and signaled intersections at Big Bear Boulevard, Blue Ridge Road, Smiley Lane and Brown School, Harvester and Prathersville roads.
The league, however, wants to give drivers more opportunities to make left turns.
“For businesses that rely on impulse traffic, they get upset when you cut down access to their locations,” league attorney Craig Van Matre said.
Safety comes first
Despite disagreements over the specifics of the road improvements, both the league and MoDOT want traffic to move more safely up and down the corridor, Van Matre said.
MoDOT’s guidelines call for raised medians on any road where traffic exceeds 28,000 trips per day. Range Line currently handles 25,000 trips per day and is expected to reach 37,000 by 2026, MoDOT project manager Kenny Voss said.
Scott Bitterman, a traffic engineer hired by the North Columbia League, said he’s trying to follow the same guidelines.
“The people that are involved at the MoDOT office are first-class people,” Van Matre said. “You can’t fault them, but this isn’t an exact science. Every road would be safer if no one could get onto it except at one point and off of it at one point, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good.”
Burnam said MoDOT has indicated a willingness to compromise.
Voss said communication between MoDOT and the league has been limited, but he expects the formal proposal will open up communication. He added that MoDOT is trying to provide a safe north-south corridor through Columbia and a safer flow of traffic, while business owners prefer to slow down traffic with more left-turn movement.
“Of course the landowners would prefer a dedicated left turn lane like what exists on Missouri Boulevard (in Jefferson City),” Van Matre said. “But that hasn’t been successful. Everyone is turning in and out everywhere, and there are tons of wrecks. So we’re willing to compromise.”
Voss agreed, saying the accident rate on a highway with a dedicated turn lane is 2 1/2 times that of roads with raised medians.
“Missouri Boulevard is a good example of a five-lane that doesn’t work very well,” he said. “But if they can make a proposal that doesn’t disturb the flow of traffic, then that would be considered.”
Burnam said safety is the league’s priority. “The current MoDOT plan is calling for very few access points and is going to rely very heavily on U-turns, which we think are clumsy and dangerous.”
'Three-quarter' access points discussed
Instead, the league proposes several “three-quarter” access points and breaks in the median between Blue Ridge Road and Smiley Lane.
“By not providing for any curb cuts, (MoDOT is) putting an amazing amount of stress on the few that they are putting in,” Burnam said.
The League also proposes a full access point at Kennesaw Ridge Road/ Rain Forest Parkway, which would allow travelers to make left turns onto and off of Range Line. MoDOT’s initial proposal provided only three-quarter access points at that location, eliminating left turns back onto Range Line.
Voss said he expects the league to also ask for access at Boone Industrial Boulevard. MoDOT’s plan for no access at that point is completely unacceptable, Burnam said. “MoDOT is basically advocating channeling semi trucks through residential neighborhoods.”
“In the end you have to compromise,” Van Matre said. “It’s really just a matter of what’s the best compromise for each party. You won’t have as many left turns as the merchants want, but you’ll have some, which is more than what MoDOT wanted.”
Revamping to follow compromise
Once MoDOT and the league forge a compromise, Burnam said, the league plans to push an aggressive revamping of the corridor. “Things like old buildings and power lines are all going to be relocated or demolished by the construction,” he said. “And we want to make sure that what goes back after that sets the tone for the next 20 years.”
Burnam said the league wants to work with the city, county and state to bury power lines and beautify the medians and rights-of-way that are going to be installed with the construction.
“With a little bit of foresight and planning, we could create a beautiful corridor,” Burnam said. “Why not go ahead and make a small additional investment for the good of the community?”
Burnam said the league’s efforts have been expensive. With about 70 members paying moderate dues, the league has had to solicit contributions to cover the costs.
“This could cost upwards of $50,000 in legal and engineering fees,” he said.