COLUMBIA — After several years of negotiation, planning and deliberation, Range Line Street and Stadium Boulevard are finally on their way to being widened. The City Council on Monday night greenlighted agreements with the Missouri Department of Transportation that will help pay for multimillion dollar reconstructions of the highways.
The project on Range Line Street, also known as Highway 763, will cost about $19.7 million. The project consists of widening the street to four lanes between Big Bear Boulevard and Prathersville Road. The plan includes a raised median, sidewalks, storm drainage structures and traffic signals.
The city will finance $2.9 million of the Range Line project upfront using proceeds from the city’s capital improvement sales tax, but it will be reimbursed by the Missouri Department of Transportation as soon as 2010, city Finance Director Lori Fleming said. The city will also cover the $1.2 million cost of relocating utilities to accommodate the construction.
Previous cost estimates for the project were almost $30 million, but they included the cost of acquiring right of way along the corridor. Kenneth Voss, transportation project manager for the state transportation department, said the cost fell considerably after some property owners donated right of way and after the designs were scaled back. Changes include narrowing shoulders from 10 feet to seven feet and making sidewalks on both sides of the street six feet wide and adjacent to the curb, rather than having a grass strip between the curbs and the walkways.
“There was originally a wider impact,” Voss said, adding the project is scheduled to be awarded to the lowest bidder on Dec. 12. Construction is slated to begin in early 2008 and end in 2009.
Voss said there will be considerable congestion during the construction because some left turns will be temporarily taken out. Brown School Road will have to be closed for about two months at Range Line, and traffic will be detoured to Creasy Springs Road. Still, Voss said, two lanes of the highway will remain open at all times.
Meanwhile, three transportation development districts — the Stadium Drive Corridor, Shoppes at Stadium and Columbia Mall TDDs — are joining with the city and the state to begin designs for a major overhaul of the Stadium Boulevard corridor between Interstate 70 and Broadway. The TDDs are public entities formed by property owners along and near the corridor. They charge extra sales taxes on purchases within their boundaries to fund road improvements.
The Stadium project, which will cost an estimated $19 million, will be financed by the TDD sales taxes and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Fleming said the city will oversee designs and plans for the project, but that all its costs will be reimbursed. Construction won’t begin until 2010.
“The bottom line is the TDD will cover a portion of the cost, the state will cover a portion of the cost and the city is the bookkeeper for all of it,” Fleming said.
Preliminary plans include widening Stadium from four lanes to six, adding single right-turn lanes and dual left-turn lanes on approaches at Bernadette Drive and Worley Street, upgrading the traffic signal at Bernadette Drive, widening entrance and exit ramps at the I-70 interchange and upgrading outer-road intersections.
“The connection to Stadium (from I-70 Drive Southwest) will be converted into a right-in, right-out only intersection, which means no left turns will be made onto Stadium nor any left turns from Stadium onto the outer road,” said David Nichols, chief engineer for the Columbia Public Works Department.
Engineers also hope to improve the flow of traffic through intersections by installing computerized signal systems; widening Bernadette Drive to six lanes from Stadium to Knipp Street; closing driveways on the mall lot near Wendy’s and the northwest corner of Dillard’s; and reconstructing Ash Street.
The conceptual plan calls for improving traffic lights and safety on at least eight roads connecting to Stadium: the I-70 outer roads, the westbound and eastbound on- and off-ramps to I-70, Bernadette Drive and Broadway, Worley and Ash streets.
Although the plans are extensive, some officials think the project is only a short-term fix for the traffic problems that have plagued the area.
“I would say that with this project, what we were able to do with $19 million is put a Band-Aid on Stadium, Bernadette, Fairview, Ash,” City Manager Bill Watkins told the City Council on Monday. “Without ... TDDs, this project probably wouldn’t happen.”
“I think MoDOT saw a partner for a fix for Stadium and decided to become a partner.”
The transportation department will loan the TDDs the money needed to complete the project and then be reimbursed by the TDDs’ tax collections over the next 10 to 12 years. Each of the TDDs will charge an extra half-cent sales tax.
Nichols called the TDD taxes a user fee.
“If you don’t shop in the district, you don’t contribute to the TDD tax,” he said.