In a sight not often seen during morning rush hour at the Interstate 70/U.S. 63 interchange, vehicles moved seamlessly without having to slam on their brakes or honk in disgust, thanks to recently completed construction meant to dispel its reputation as Columbia’s worst bottleneck.
Yet, the question remains: How long will it last?
The interchange continues to top the list as Columbia’s most accident-prone traffic area with 188 reported accidents this year, a 17 percent increase from 2004.
According to studies conducted before construction began, almost 108,000 cars pass through the interchange each day. While it can handle that volume for the time being, other projects in the works, such as the widening of East Broadway to four lanes, could force the Missouri Department of Transportation to revisit the intersection.
“We’re anticipating this is good for at least 10 years till we get back to the point where we were,” MoDOT central engineer Roger Schwartze said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday morning that celebrated completion of the work.
He said improvements in traffic flow tend to attract more vehicles.
“Existing traffic within the city that may have gone around, may be attracted,” Schwartze said.
While all who took their turns behind the lectern at the ribbon-cutting ceremony praised the project as a substantial step in easing congestion in Columbia, it is by no means a cure-all.
MoDOT Chief Engineer Kevin Keith said the project is a prime example of “practical design,” in which improvements take place through small changes on existing infrastructure.
“We were told four years ago, if you really wanted to fix this issue, we needed to rebuild the existing interchange, remove a lot of local businesses, at a cost approaching $100 million,” Keith said.
Unfortunately, Keith said, that’s not an option.
“We have to take the infrastructure we have, make wise decisions with the money we have and make things better — not perfect.”
In the interim, the federally funded $10.4 million project will have some positive impact. It will be easier for drivers, for example, to merge onto westbound I-70 because both its lanes have been realigned so an on-ramp from the interchange could be extended.
Drivers no longer have to jam their way onto the freeway, Schwartze said.
Also, the intersection at U.S. 63 and Conley Road was moved 200 feet south to prevent cars from backing up into the intersection.
State Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, whose 25th District includes the interchange, hopes the notorious and sometimes deadly crossing will now be safer.
“The Highway 63 connecter to I-70 has remained one of the most dangerous traffic zones in Missouri,” she said. “It’s great to see our government do something about it.”