Jackson to partner with MoDOT to improve uptown streets

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Traffic gets backed up at the 4-way stop at the intersection of North Hope and East Main Streets in Jackson, Mo., on Tuesday, July 5, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

A unanimous vote Tuesday night by the Jackson Board of Aldermen to enter into a 50/50 cost-sharing agreement with the Missouri Department of Transportation to improve U.S. 61 and intersecting streets in the uptown area has some worried already about parking for businesses.

Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce, gave a statement at the aldermen meeting before the vote. Gerau said the chamber supports the project and sees it as necessary for the city's growth, but said the chamber is concerned about the potential loss of parking spaces for the chamber building and its tenants, the license bureau, which is mandated by the state to provide a minimum number of handicap accessible spaces, and an accounting firm. If the chamber were to lose the tenants, the income would be hard for the chamber to replace, Gerau told the aldermen. Aldermen Dave Hitt and Larry Cunningham responded to Gerau's concerns about loss of parking spaces by saying there were good possibilities of working out an agreement with the city that chamber building employees or customers could use designated spaces in the city-owned lot across the street.

Tom Cook, owner of two buildings on Hope Street directly south of the chamber building, said Tuesday he hasn't been able to guarantee anyone interested in renting the building that formerly housed Pizza Pro that there will be parking available in front since the restaurant moved more than two years ago. The attached building holds Cook's business, Jackson Laundromat. Part of the concept presented to the city by MoDOT calls for widening of Hope Street from Adams Street north to Washington Street and the addition of a turning lane. Businesses and government properties on both sides of the street would be affected.

Cook said he thinks the concept is a waste of time and money and an attempt to avoid rerouting traffic around the uptown area, although Jackson officials have said recently it is the solution to Jackson's No. 1 problem: congested traffic. Cook said from his perspective the work would leave a street four feet from the front door of his buildings.

The financial agreement with MoDOT is the first step in a project the city has had in its comprehensive plan for around 20 years, said Rodney Bollinger, Jackson's public works director. Bollinger said the amount estimated by MoDOT in the financial agreement, $1,567,000, includes an estimate for right-of-way acquisition. There has been discussion between the city and MoDOT about purchasing Cook's property and turning it into a parking lot, Bollinger said. Parking spaces will also be lost along Main Street between Hope Street and Barton Street according to MoDOT's plan to re-stripe Main Street with a turning lane and place a light at the intersection, and on High Street north of the courthouse.

Along with the widening of the U.S. 61 route, the concept includes making Court Street one way north and Barton Street one way south. Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr said the concept is the best of several possible solutions to traffic congestion the city has seen over the years, including one which proposed a roundabout route around the county courthouse.

Bollinger said the cost of moving utilities would be paid by the city, while any other costs incurred with the project would be split in half by MoDOT and the city. According to a tentative schedule, utilities would be moved next summer and the construction to widen lanes and re-stripe streets for direction changes and widening would begin in the summer of 2013. Jim Roach, Jackson's city administrator, said rerouting traffic through the area would last between three and six months.

MoDOT Southeast regional field engineer Andy Meyer has been in communication with the city about a possible U.S. 61 improvement project since 1997 and said he is excited by the idea that there may finally be a solution to traffic congestion uptown. Meyer said there are hurdles however, including loss of parking and changing entry access to the post office on the northeast corner of Hope and Main streets. Per the cost-sharing agreement with the city, MoDOT must also enter into an agreement with the General Services Administration and the post office as part of the process for the concept to become a final plan. Meyer said MoDOT has met with representatives of the post office and he thinks an agreement can likely be reached, although there are still questions that surround how to best arrange access to post office parking and drop boxes. Meyer said MoDOT has also had discussions with county commissioners related to the project, since widening of the roads will affect property containing the county administration building.

Meyer said since it was likely there would be many questions about the concept that the department would participate in public meetings in the fall.

In closing Tuesday night's aldermen meeting, alderman Dave Reiminger said board members initiated something by voting in favor of the agreement that would make an enormous difference in the city's traffic problem.

"We have done nothing but fight this thing for 15 or 20 years," Reiminger said.

eragan@semissourian.com

243-6635

Pertinent addresses:

Adams Street, Jackson, MO

Barton Street, Jackson, MO

Court Street, Jackson, MO

High Street, Jackson, MO

Highway 61, Jackson, MO

Hope Street, Jackson, MO

Main Street, Jackson, MO

Washington Street, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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