Relocating I-70 further north in Columbia will help traffic flow, city growth

Monday, November 19, 2007 | 10:12 a.m. CST; updated 12:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Plans for improving Interstate 70 seem to have settled on an expansion of the existing Interstate from the current four lanes to six lanes and later to eight lanes. While the engineers have done a remarkable job in analyzing alternatives, one still wonders whether all the factors have been considered and the right decisions have been made. The issue raises the most fundamental questions about the future development of the city. Here are some arguments for relocating the Interstate to the north side of the city limits:

1. Improving the current I-70 is forecasted to bring the highway’s traffic volumes once again close to capacity in the year 2030, only 23 years from today. Those intervening years will pass quickly, especially since at least five of the forecasted years will elapse before funding and construction will be completed, at which time we will be faced once again with the question as to how the heaviest traffic flows in the city are to be accommodated. Instead of the year 2030 we should be planning our basic infrastructure for the horizon year of 2050. The conclusions drawn from the data of these two different forecasting endpoints are diametrically opposed. Using 2050 for the forecast year one finds it is cheaper to construct a north relocation now because it will inevitably become necessary a few years after 2030.

2. A north relocation would open new sites for industrial development adjacent to a major east-west truck corridor and offer new opportunities to promote Columbia as a warehousing and distribution center. Equidistant from Kansas City and St. Louis, Columbia is, for example, ideally situated to serve as a depot for emergency supplies in case of catastrophe in either one or both of the two major metropolitan areas.

3. A north relocation would avoid the necessity of widening the current alignment of I-70 to six lanes ­— later increasing to eight lanes — which would further divide Columbia from north Columbia.

4. A north relocation would promote more balanced development of what is now an increasingly southern-oriented city growth pattern by encouraging development of the north side. The future of the downtown would be sustained and strengthened by continuing to be central to the urbanized area. The creation of new job centers would draw population and purchasing power to the immediate market area of both the downtown and the Columbia Mall/West Broadway commercial complex.

5. Local traffic (traffic with at least one trip end in Columbia) represents one and a half times the amount of through traffic on I-70. Diverting through traffic around the city would allow the designation of the current I-70 as Business Route 70, freeing it to absorb the increased locally oriented traffic and reducing the need to use intracity neighborhood streets, such as Ash or Worley streets, for cross-city movements.

6. The official preferred alternative (improving the current alignment) is said to be less costly than a north relocation because the latter would entail the cost of a bypass plus the cost of expanding lanes and bridges to accommodate increases in local travel. The increases in local travel on the interstate could be moderated with more arterials running parallel to the Interstate on the north side, making development less dependent on north/south roads and use of the Interstate for cross-city travel. Such streets could change the comparative costs of the north relocation versus improvements to the current alignment.

7. Relocation of the Interstate would permit the conversion of the current highway to an expressway functioning as part of inner loops created by the expressway in combination with Stadium Boulevard, Providence Road and U.S. 63. As the developed area of the city expands, additional access to and across the current alignment — especially for circumferential street systems — can be provided by less costly at-grade intersections, such as at Scott Boulevard. Such intersections — in combination with speed limits on the current alignment comparable to Stadium Boulevard and mandatory use of the bypass by through trucks — would serve to divert through traffic to a relocated interstate highway.

These considerations remind us that in the ebb and flow of decision-making we are building a city as well as moving traffic.

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