Center Junction: To close or not to close? Good question

If you live in Jackson and go to Cape Girardeau frequently, or vice versa, you're probably already making plans on how to avoid the upcoming demolition and reconstruction of the Center Junction interchange.

Some 20,000 cars travel that section of road underneath Interstate 55, where Jackson ends and Cape Girardeau begins. It's how thousands of motorists get to work, go to church, get ice cream, go to the water park, and more.

In a somewhat suprising move, the Missouri Department of Transportation has given notice U.S. 61 will need to be completely shut down for some seven months while the bridges come down and go up again. Access to the interstate will remain from both directions, but you won't be able to enter Jackson from Cape or Cape from Jackson at Center Junction for a seven-month period.

Several local officials have voiced displeasure at the decision.

MoDOT originally said it would keep one lane going in and out of the cities, but when bids came in from contractors, they far exceeded estimates. This was due to having to keep U.S. 61 open during construction.

The closure is opposed by city governments and chambers of commerce in both cities.

Not only will the closure hurt business on both sides of the interstate, "consideration needs to be given to emergency, ambulance, police and fire situations," Jackson Chamber of Commerce president Brian Gerau said. Gerau added the economic impact will be "immesureable. I know we we are concerned with saving the state money ... but we really need to worry about our businesses that are going to be affected. We have hotels, we have restaurants, we have car dealerships, we have distributorships. We really need to have serious consideration about that."

These are all valid points, obviously.

A counterpoint for those who are commuting is that regular users of U.S. 61 at Center Junction were probably going to find alternate routes anyway. Reduction of lanes would slow the traffic to a crawl, and alternate routes would be preferable on a daily basis for Jackson residents traveling to most parts of Cape Girardeau. An inconvenience of alternate routes sounds better at seven months than the estimated double that time in keeping the lanes open.

MoDOT seems fairly locked in to its decision to close off the artery, though conceded it will consider alternatives to keep the route open during the project. A Southeast Missouri Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, which consists of many entities in the region, will meet July 17 to discuss the matters in more detail.

Whatever MoDOT decides, however, all jurisdictions involved need to consider and prepare for alternate routes. For example, the outer road on the Jackson side of the interchange that eventually connects to Hopper Road in Cape Girardeau is not equipped to handle the type of traffic that it will likely incur with a closed 61. The roads are narrow with little or no shoulders in most spots. Turn lanes may need to be added in other areas to prevent backups, which has already been discussed briefly.

MoDOT, operating with very limited funding, is in the unenviable position of trying to save taxpayer dollars and complete the project. The costs of keeping those lanes open are fairly known. What exactly is the cost of disruption? It'll be up to the local entities to convince MoDOT the cost of closing the highway exceeds the amount saved by doing so. Interesting times are ahead for traffic patterns in the neighboring cities.