DUTCHTOWN, Mo. -- The traffic jam on Highway 74 at rush hour these days is so bad that the Missouri Department of Transportation plans to install temporary traffic lights in this town of fewer than 100 residents.
The cause is a successful MoDOT campaign encouraging motorists to use highways 74 and 25 after work began three weeks ago on an Interstate 55 construction project. Crews are replacing the northbound I-55 Diversion Channel bridge at Route AB.
The result is that as many as 60 or 70 cars and trucks often are backed up half a mile on Highway 74 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. as motorists wait to make a left turn to head south on Highway 25 and over the Diversion Channel.
"It has delayed me 15 to 20 minutes every day," said Mike Lee, who drives through Dutchtown every day on his way home to Bell City, Mo., from his job with a vinyl siding company in Cape Girardeau. He regularly drove highways 74 and 25 even before the I-55 construction sparked motorists to turn to the Dutchtown route.
Some days, he and other motorists have been trapped in line on Highway 74 for more than 30 minutes waiting to make a left turn onto Highway 25.
The lights will be installed in the next month and will remain until the I-55 project is finished in an estimated two years. Currently, there are stop signs on Highway 74 and across the intersection on Route A. Traffic on Highway 25 doesn't stop, adding to the difficulty of drivers trying to turn left off Highway 74, said Stan Johnson, MoDOT area engineer.
Some motorists are taking Route K west to Highway 25 at Gordonville, Mo., and then proceeding south on the state highway to avoid having to make a left-hand turn at Dutchtown. As a result, traffic has picked up on Highway 25, adding to the delay for those traveling on Highway 74, Lee said.
Motorists have little alternative but to endure the traffic slowdowns on I-55 or use Highway 25. "There are just not a lot of good ways around because your problem is getting across the Diversion Channel," Johnson said.
MoDOT plans to hire a contractor to install utility poles, and then highway crews plan to string traffic lights on wire above the intersection. Sensors will be installed in the pavement, which will activate the lights as traffic dictates.
"It will be a big change for those who normally use Route 25, but the temporary signals should greatly improve traffic flow at the intersection," he said.
Johnson said he doesn't know how much it will cost to install the temporary signals.
Mike Hess of Bell City said the traffic signals might help.
"It's probably a good idea," he said as he sat in his pickup truck in the gravel parking lot at the Smith Stop convenience store, which sits near the intersection.
As he and his friend Lee talked, traffic crawled on Highway 74. When there was a break in Highway 25 traffic, motorists making left turns onto the highway hurried through the intersection, often without stopping.
Both Hess and Lee said the traffic signals could pose a problem if they back up traffic too much on Highway 25.
Meanwhile, construction work continues on I-55 with traffic reduced to one northbound and one southbound lane.
Today, the northbound lane traffic will be switched from the right lane to the left lane to allow repair work on the road shoulder. Johnson said the switch would take place after the morning rush hours. Traffic is expected to remain on the left lane for the next two to three days.
335-6611, extension 123