Editor’s note: A public hearing with MoDOT held at Bonne Terre City Hall Monday evening entailed a large amount of information in regard to several issues within the city. This is part one of a two-part story.
The Bonne Terre City Council held a special public hearing with the Missouri Department of Transportation Monday evening to discuss numerous road issues within the city.
MoDOT representative Brian Okenfuss discussed right-of-way, emergency turnarounds and lanes on Highway 47.
“One of the first questions I (received) was getting two lanes in both directions on Highway 47,” said Okenfuss. “There are some problems with doing that at this point, certainly right-of-way is a big issue and I think most of the council members are aware of how tight things are there.”
Okenfuss said for better traffic flow, having two lanes in both directions would make sense, but without doing a big expansion type project it couldn't happen. Buying right-of-way and businesses is not feasible for the situation MoDOT is in right now.
“To give you a quick background of where MoDOT is, we are really focused on taking care of our system, which is our first priority and we also have some funds available for defined safety projects to find safety needs,” Okenfuss said. “We also have a cost-share program that is available, basically a city or an entity will come to us with at least 50 percent of a project cost.”
He said it is a competitive process so they have to be ready to spend the money and they have to have a project that competes well with other projects throughout the state. Okenfuss said right now that is their three ways of funding projects at this time.
“Really, the only option for expansion at this time is the cost-share and if funding becomes available that is when the Regional Planning Commission will come into effect,” Okenfuss said. “They help us identify needs for expanding the system on a regional level.”
Okenfuss said he recommends the city keep talking to the planning commission to get it on the top of their priority list if the city really wants to pursue it. That way if money becomes available they will be at the top of the list.
Bonne Terre City Administrator Jim Eaton asked Okenfuss if they haven’t already actively solicited their input or needs to the Regional Planning Commission.
“About once a year at the meetings we ask for a prioritized list of projects from the area,” Okenfuss said. “So once a year in the fall we ask for that list and that is where you need to be vocal. Either get somebody to be a voting member or get to know the person who is the voting member so you can explain the needs of the city to that person.”
Eaton said quite frankly they do not have 50 percent to fund a project. Okenfuss said then the cost-share would not something that would work for them right now.
“I do have some options for smaller pieces that I think are more manageable and can help,” Okenfuss said. “The next question is about traffic signals at Highway 47 and U.S. 67 and concerns of everything not flowing the way it should.”
He said the signals at the ramps are controlled by one controller and there should be no coordination problems there because it is all one control. If there are specific issues with timing during certain times of the day, there could be something wrong with detection.
“Those are things we can address pretty quickly, but we have to know specifics so we can look at those things,” Okenfuss said. “There shouldn’t be any coordination issues with those two signals. Now the signal at Berry Road is radio connected to the signals at the ramps and it’s possible those radio connections don’t work.”
Okenfuss said if there is something specific that really looks wrong, the city should call him. He explained if they drive it every day and it’s not really backed up, but then all of a sudden it is really backed up for a week straight, they should let him know.
“It is something they look at frequently and within the next year they will connect cell phones to both of those signals, which will allow us to remotely monitor those signals,” Okenfuss said. “I don’t know if cell phone is the technical term, but essentially we will have control from Sikeston.”
He explained that if they get complaints or concerns they will have the ability to access it from Sikeston and address the issue more quickly rather than having to go out there.
“The next concern here is if you are on westbound 47, crossing Berry Road starting to head up past the pharmacy,” Okenfuss said. “Basically we have two lanes westbound and they taper into one. People most always use the left one and don’t hardly use the right one. The concern is that there are left turners who will be in that through lane and will stop everyone.”
He said there is the right lane that no one is using and then the lane everybody is trying to use to make a left turn and to go straight. Okenfuss said they did put together an advised plan, which is a striping plan and may need some minor adjustments.
“Essentially it would make the left lane a left-turn lane, which would end at Dale Street and the right lane would become the through lane and would stay the through lane,” Okenfuss said. “I have some diagrams that I can leave with the city to see if that is something that will help.”
Okenfuss said they think it could help and anyone making a left turn on Dale Street would no longer be congesting everyone trying to come through the signal.
“If you are in front of Dairy Queen approaching the signal, the far left lane is a left-turn lane onto Vo-Tech Road,” Okenfuss explained. “Currently the middle lane is a through lane, that everyone sits in to go through and the right lane is a through and a combination right lane. Nobody uses that lane in our observations to go straight up the hill.”
Councilwoman Andrea Richardson said they do use it, they race up the hill and then they crash and cause chaos.
“Then what we would propose is to leave the middle lane as just a through lane and the right lane will be just a right-turn lane at Berry Road,” Okenfuss. “That middle through lane as you go through the signal, the right side would be your through lane and you would develop a left-turn lane that would allow people to go left.”
Okenfuss said there are some things they don’t like about it. He said they don’t want to make too many changes because if they start moving stripes they have to remove the old ones and put down new ones.
“Now we have scar marks over here and new pavement and new marking lines, so we think this is a really good solution for what is out there now,” Okenfuss said. “We have looked ahead at pavement condition to try and see when the next overlay is coming and that is in about four years.”
He said at that point it would give them an opportunity to put those lines a little centered up more and to make sure the lanes widths are perfectly even. Orkenfuss stressed it would give them a better opportunity to clean things up.
“Right now we don’t want to go through there and scratch out a bunch of marks,” said Okenfuss. “So right now we do these very simple fixes that I will leave you a diagram for and three years from now we will look at it to see if there are any adjustments that need to made. We think we can do these in the short term and help out now.”
Okenfuss added right now it is not in their statewide transportation improvement program. That is a five-year plan and the first three years are pretty well filled, so that leaves some openings in the fourth year.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t adjust things as we find out certain pavements deteriorate faster and we need to slide them up further and maybe pull some back,” Okenfuiss said. “I don’t want to say there is no opportunity to do it in the next three years, but right now I can tell you it’s not in our draft.”
He said they have looked at the pavement condition and in town is worse than outside of town. He said he just can’t guarantee anything at this point.
Watch for the second half of this story in Thursday's edition of the Daily Journal. The story includes discussion about emergency crossovers, which became heated at some points among MoDOT and the police and fire departments.