MoDOT’s latest plans for the construction of a diverging diamond interchange at I-55 and U.S. Hwy. 61 (Center Junction) met resistance at a meeting of the Southeast Metropolitan Planning Organization (SEMPO) July 17.
(SEMPO has representatives from the cities of Jackson, Cape Girardeau and Scott City, several area transportation agencies, planning commissions and Cape Area MAGNET.)
MoDOT’s latest plans call for leaving one lane of Hwy. 61 open in each direction between Cape Girardeau and Jackson but closing both of the northern ramps of I-55.
Brian Gerau, president of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber had polled businesses that will be directly affected by the construction. He complimented Jackson, Cape and MoDOT for working together to keep Hwy. 61 open during construction, calling this “an amazing first step.”
He added, “Our biggest concern is now the access of I-55 north and south, whether you’re coming from Jackson or Cape.” He said diverting big truck traffic (Walmart, Buchheit and Capital Sand, especially) onto Hwy. 25 or East Main Street is not a good idea, because those roads were not designed to handle such big trucks.
“We have to somehow have access to Interstate 55,” said Eddie Ross, owner of Ross Furniture and Missouri Mattress in Jackson, and Furniture Finds in Cape. He has trucks arriving at his stores every day and customers coming from all over the region, including Perryville, Sikeston, Poplar Bluff and Cairo, IL. If customers can’t get to his business in a timely manner, they will go elsewhere. “Consumers are fickle. If it’s not easy, they won’t come,” he said.
This is MoDOT’s third attempt to satisfy the needs of area businesses and residents while construction takes place.
The original plan called for leaving all four I-55 ramps open and limiting Hwy. 61 to one lane in each direction. Everyone seemed to like that plan, but it hit a snag when the construction bids came in way over budget. MoDOT was hoping to pay about $12 million. The bids ranged from $18.5 million to $20.5 million. The Transportation Commission rejected all bids as being excessively high.
After talking with the bidding contractors, MoDOT learned it could cut costs by closing Highway 61 for about seven months; no traffic would be allowed between Cape and Jackson, but right turns only would be allowed on and off I-55.
This second plan was presented to Cape and Jackson city councils, but it was not well received.
Mark Shelton from MoDOT said he heard clearly from both Jackson and Cape that closing through traffic on Hwy. 61 was not a good option. A third plan was developed that keeps Hwy. 61 open but now closes the two northern ramps to I-55. (That area is needed by construction crews as work space, and fill material will be taken from that higher area to raise low spots where the new Hwy. 61 will go.
It was explained that traffic going north on I-55 from Sikeston will be able to exit at Hwy. 61 and go right into Cape. If drivers want to come to Jackson, they will have to make a U-turn at the cemetery. Drivers coming south on I-55 will not be able to exit at Hwy. 61 at all. They will have to exit at Fruitland, Main Street/LaSalle, or William Street.
Drivers coming from Cape and Jackson will not be able to go north on I-55 at Hwy. 61. They will have to enter the interstate at other ramps. However, if they want to go south, they will be able to turn south onto I-55 from eastbound Hwy. 61. (Cape drivers will have to go into Jackson and make a U-turn.)
Shelton said he got the message from meeting with Jackson and Cape officials that their priority was to keep Hwy. 61 open to through traffic. Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs said there has been no prioritizing of the options. Interstate access also is important to area businesses. He didn’t think it was a good trade-off to save $2 million in construction costs but lose access to I-55.
As discussion continued regarding how traffic would shift through the intersection during various phases of construction, it became clear that nearly everyone was confused as to what would happen.
John Mehner, director of MAGNET, suggested that MoDOT prepare maps for both options two and three, showing how traffic would move through the intersection during various stages of construction. It would then be clear as to what would happen when, and it would be easier for SEMPO members to prefer one option over the other.
Shelton said it would take about a week to prepare such maps, and SEMPO set a special meeting for 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26, at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau to examine the maps and have further discussion.