Jane Mandel has spent the past 20 years perfecting her dream home.
It’s a log cabin circa 1840, her ultimate antique, which she bought in Kansas City and has continued to expand in east Columbia since 1995. Outside their sun porch window, Jane and her significant other, Jim Wilson, can see deer, migratory birds and reflections of the changing leaves in their pond. They call it their “big screen TV.”
Residents can submit comments about the four plans for east Columbia roads until Wednesday. Forms are available on the East Columbia Environmental Impact Statement Web site at eastcolumbiaeis.com. The Missouri Department of Transportation anticipates hosting a public hearing in the spring. To read more about the topic and to discuss it, go to the Missourian’s Public Life blog at thewatchword.wordpress.com.
They have a vegetable garden that Wilson tends to carefully and a gazebo on their pond’s island, which he said looks like “a ship at sea” when covered with snow in the winter. They often hear the buzzing of Interstate 70 to the north, but their home off Richland Road is their sanctuary.
“It feels private, it feels serene,” Mandel said.
But Mandel and Wilson’s sanctuary is in jeopardy. On Oct. 24, the Missouri Department of Transportation, in cooperation with Boone County and the city, unveiled four remaining plans for how to reconstruct east Columbia’s network of roads. Of the four, only one plan guarantees Mandel and Wilson will keep their home.
“Potentially they could take the house, take everything,” Mandel said. “Our property seems to be under the line in all of the drawings.”
Mandel heard rumors about possible road projects in the area when she bought her property in 1987, but she was unsure where or when construction lines would be drawn. At last week’s public information meeting, she learned that her home was in the cross hairs.
“That was a surprise,” Mandel said. “It was not a good surprise.”
The plans are still in preliminary stages and might not be carried out for another 10 years, but Mandel said the planning is inconvenient to east Columbia residents, especially those trying to sell their homes.
“It seems so unfair that these people have to be in limbo,” Mandel said. “It affects people’s lives on so many levels. I just wish they could make the whole process go faster.”
The Transportation Department’s four “recommended reasonable alternatives” were narrowed down from an original set of nine plans presented at a meeting on Nov. 15. The department narrowed the nine using an extensive set of criteria, the broad points being traffic congestion and safety concerns, connection of major highways between eastern Boone County and Columbia and improved access to east Columbia.
The final four plans met all the basic criteria. Because of similarities, the plans are basically two sets of two.
All four of the reasonable alternatives call for widening and realigning Route WW and extending Stadium Boulevard to I-70.
The plans also reflect an existing city plan that will convert Rolling Hills Road into a major street running north and south through the area.
Two alternatives, known as SC-1 and SC-2, show an extension of Stadium from its current stopping point, immediately east of U.S. 63 to the Lake of the Woods interchange, roughly following the path of St. Charles Road. The difference between the plans is that SC-2 would extend Ballenger Lane across I-70 to connect with the extended Stadium Boulevard south of the interstate.
The other pair of alternatives, known as RR-1 and RR-2, would extend Stadium Boulevard to the Route Z interchange, roughly following the path of Richland Road. Again, the difference is that RR-2 includes the Ballenger Lane extension.
Rob Miller, a representative from the Transportation Department’s consultant firm CH2M HILL, said the format of last week’s meeting was effective. Residents looked at posters explaining how the four alternatives were chosen and which part of the area the plans would affect. The Department of Transportation collected comment forms for its engineers to review when deciding which plan is best overall.
Although cost is a major factor, the department is also looking at environmental impact and what will be suitable for the area in 30 years.
“It’s rare that the (chosen) alternative is best in everything,” Miller said.
Miller said because the project is in its preliminary stages, there is no absolute certainty concerning which properties will be affected. He said the Transportation Department is willing to work with property owners individually and that they will “minimize impacts to the utmost extent” that they can.
“We’re going to investigate those areas so we can pick the alternative that best serves the needs of the community,” Miller said.
Some residents look forward to decongestion of the area with wider roads and more direct routes. Others, such as Ken Jacob, an east Columbia resident of 25 years, would prefer things stay the way they are.
“I hope they never get the money to do it,” Jacob said. “I don’t think that the plans are good for east Columbia.”
Jacob calls his 3.5-acre property near the Lake of the Woods interchange “a great escape” from an otherwise hectic life. With a 2-acre pond, it’s “country living” only 4 miles from the city.
Jacob has seen a lot of changes in the past two decades. Neither the Broadway Shopping Center nor the developments along Keene Street were there when Jacob moved in. He also said that U.S. 63 has become much more congested and that increased traffic in the area is noisy.
Jacob thinks that if either of the plans including Ballenger Road go through, he will lose his home to the state.
“I could not go out and purchase the same thing,” Jacob said. “They’d have to give me a lot of money in order to have what I have now. It’s impossible that in this situation, I could ever get enough for what I have.”
The Transportation Department’s appraisal staff will meet with each of the residents whose properties are in the path of construction. The staff will determine property value through a before-and-after property comparison, by looking at similar property sales in the area and what impact the highway will have on the property.
Transportation officials said residents will be compensated for damaged property and, if a house is in the way, the Transportation Department will pay for the cost of the house and owner relocation.
Because her property is near the intersection of St. Charles and Richland roads, Mandel anticipates the Stadium Boulevard extension will go right through her home. If RR-2 is chosen, it might miss her property.
“Up until now, it feels private, it feels serene,” Mandel said. “That’s going to go away no matter where they put the road.”
If the extension punches through her living room, Mandel said she will not be able to recreate her dream home.
“It’s hard to start over,” Mandel said. “I started this 20 years ago when I was young and able to do it. I’m 54, and I can’t do it again.”