The Missouri Department of Transportation’s research to improve Interstate 70 is not enough, according to Scenic Missouri, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Columbia.
Scenic Missouri is pushing for an interagency study to build an automobile-only parkway that would parallel I-70. The proposed Lewis and Clark Parkway would be a four-lane highway that would take into account the natural geography of the land, said John Regenbogen, Scenic Missouri spokesman.
“A thorough study and working to build a great parkway is all that we would want to happen now,” Regenbogen said. “At this point, it needs further review.”
The parkway would be different from the Missouri Department of Transportation’s current plan to repave the interstate and widen it from four lanes to six. The department estimates that the widening would cost about $3 billion.
“One of the needs that we know is that we need six lanes across the state, and the parkway would give us eight lanes across the state,” said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kathy Harvey.
She added that eight lanes would be too much for the anticipated traffic.
“Overwhelmingly, the public said to us that they wanted us to reinvest in the road we already have,” said Harvey, who noted that the funding for the I-70 overhaul has yet to be determined.
The proposed autos-only parkway is based on several existing highways in the Northeast that rely on the natural scenery of their rural routes to attract travelers. Scenic Missouri estimates that to repave I-70 and not widen it would cost $1.4 billion, and the added parkway would increase the cost to $3.8 billion.
“The whole idea of the parkway is it is free of commercial intrusion,” Regenbogen said. “The Lewis and Clark Parkway would be a celebration of the scenic splendor of Missouri.”
While Regenbogen explained that the parkway would use existing facilities, Harvey recognizes that some of the public’s initial apprehension in 2001 was for local businesses on I-70.
“There’s a lot of commercial establishments that depend on the interstate for survival,” Harvey said. “If you move them to a different roadway, they believe that they’d lose that business.”
Scenic Missouri has also advocated limiting billboards on I-70 and says the parkway would be billboard-free but would have signs that reflect the regional differences in culture throughout the state.
Scenic Missouri has presented its proposal to the Missouri Division of Tourism and the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. It plans to keep presenting it to agencies across the state.
“The facility we’re proposing includes enhancement, and if there were other funding sources available we could incorporate other enhancing,” Harvey said.
She said the Lewis and Clark Parkway “has a lot of merit and a lot of the aspects of their proposal can be brought into our widening of I-70. The department has reviewed their information and we are listening.”