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MoDOT wants to close Hwy. 61 for seven months

The I-55 bridges over U.S. Highway 61 need replacing. After meeting many times with the representatives from Jackson and Cape Girardeau, it was determined that instead of just replacing those very long bridges, it would be better to redesign the entire intersection into a diverging diamond. It would improve traffic flow and make the intersection safer.

MoDOT budgeted about $12 million for the construction of the intersection. But when the four bids were opened, they ranged from $18.5 million to $24 million. The Transportation Commission rejected all bids as being excessive and spoke to the contractors about what could be done to lower the construction cost.

The contractors replied that maintaining one lane of traffic open between Cape and Jackson during construction added a tremendous amount of complication to the project and drove up the cost. So MoDOT is considering the complete closure of U.S. Hwy. 61 at I-55 for seven months. The rest of the time that construction is going on, one lane will remain open in each direction.

Mark Shelton, MoDOT’s project engineer, broke the news to the Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen during study session July 1.

“The complexity of the staging, all of the slowness of the work and the labor intensity is really what drove the prices up,” Shelton said.

“What we believe makes the most sense is to leave all right turns open,” he said. (Drivers going east on Hwy. 61 will be able to turn south onto I-55; drivers going west will be able to turn onto northbound I-55, etc.) “And then for a period of about seven months, [we will] close the through traffic, starting about April 1 [2020], with a milestone in the contract of [opening] Nov. 1.”

After Nov. 1, there may be two lanes open each direction (depending upon how fast the contractor can do the work), or there may be just one lane open in each direction until the project is completed.

The overall completion date is Nov. 1, 2021.

MoDOT wants to add an incentive clause to encourage contractors to get done early.

The original contract required one lane of traffic on Highway 61 to be open in each direction through the intersection for the year and a half that construction would be taking place. “It wasn’t going to be a picnic going through there every day,” Shelton said.

MoDOT thinks closing Hwy. 61 for seven months will save $2-3 million.

Mayor Dwayne Hahs said closing Hwy. 61 for seven months would really hurt Jackson businesses. He asked how MoDOT evaluates the economic loss to the businesses on Hwy. 61 as people are rerouted to Route K, East Main Street and the Fruitland I-55 exit.

Shelton said he didn’t have a good answer.

Alderman Dave Hitt asked, “What if we just replace the bridge and forget the diverging diamond?”

“I don’t think that’s a good solution,” said Shelton. All of the planning has shown that a diverging diamond is the “best interchange to move traffic the best,” he said.

The plan is to rebid the project this fall and open bids in November. Construction will probably not begin until next spring.

Brian Gerau, president of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, read a letter to the Board of Aldermen opposing the seven-month closure and offered alternative solutions.

“On behalf of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce and its Board of Directors, I am writing to express concern with the proposed closing of Highway 61/Center Junction for the period of seven-eight months for the divergent diamond project.

“We are asking MoDOT to give consideration to other flexible options outside of a full seven-eight month closure. Being a major connection between Cape Girardeau and Jackson, this area services over 20,000 cars a day.

“We would encourage alternative closures such as but not limited to:

“• One lane closure on each side with 100 percent accessibility;
“• Full lane closures not on peak hours—maybe full lane closures at night;
“• Full closure on weekends as to not to fully hinder business.

“Our concern is also based on these potential/probable negative effects:

“• With the loss of accessibility, the economic impact is immeasurable. Many businesses will be cut off from potential customers.

“I know We’re concerned about saving the state money, 1-2 million …  But we really need to worry about our business that are going to be affected dramatically by that closure. We have hotels, we have restaurants, we have car dealerships.

“• With the loss of accessibility, serious consideration needs to be given to emergency, ambulatory, fire/police situations.”

Gerau mentioned that Cape and Jackson police and fire departments offer mutual aid to each other in emergencies and it’s important for emergency vehicles to be able to get from one city to the other.

“• Consideration needs to be given to surrounding roadways and the congestion/traffic assumed,” he continued.
Gerau said Capital Sand runs 500 sand trucks on Hwy. 61 every day. The alternate routes are not prepared to handle them, he said.

Gerau later told The Cash-Book Journal that MoDOT is concerned about saving the state $2 million in project costs, but could lose millions in sales tax through loss of business. “The City of Jackson is going to take a pounding on sales tax,” he said.

John Mehner, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber and MAGNET, told the Board that he agreed with everything Gerau had said. He added that the Mayor and City Council in Cape are writing a letter to MoDOT opposing the seven-month closure.

Rob Stephens, secretary/treasurer of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, said he is a business owner who moved his business from Scott City to Jackson with a warehouse in Cape. About half of his customers come from Cape Girardeau. If Center Junction is closed down, it may force him out of business, he said. “It’s tough enough to get people to come from Cape to Jackson anyway,” he said.

Highway 61 “is the main thoroughfare between Cape and Jackson,” he continued. “Take that out of the picture, and small businesses like ours that are all along East Jackson Boulevard are going to impacted in major, major ways.”

In addition, Stephens recently had a major health issue and the EMTs told his wife they had to take him to Saint Francis Medical Center because he would not survive a trip to Southeast Hospital; time was that critical. Closing the intersection could impact ambulance service and become “a life and death situation,” he said.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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