PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- Motorists won't have to depend on luck and prayers to get through the interchange at Interstate 55 and Highway 51 without a fender bender after traffic lights are installed there later this year.
The Missouri Department of Transportation also plans to install traffic signals at Highway 74 and Mount Auburn Road in Cape Girardeau.
The signal lights in Cape Girardeau will handle the increased traffic expected when the new high school opens later this year, said Mark Phillips, MoDOT traffic engineer.
The state highway commission awarded a $219,637 contract to Cotner Electric Co. of Cape Girardeau to do the signal work at both intersections. Construction is expected to begin in February and should be completed by early summer.
Tina Lilly of Perryville can't wait for the new lights at the I-55 interchange. "They should have done it a long time ago," she said Monday as she prepared to shop at the Wal-Mart store just west of the interchange.
Motorists, police, city officials and state highway engineers say it's particularly hard to make left turns off the northbound and southbound exit ramps onto Highway 51.
"It really is dangerous pulling out of there," said Shawn Oster of Perryville.
Traffic has increased noticeably since the Wal-Mart store opened in August 1998, motorists and officials said.
There have been 15 accidents at the interchange in the past two years, said Eugene Besand, Perryville's police chief.
But statistics don't tell the whole story. "There are a lot of near misses," he said.
Several motels, a large convenience store and an expanded car dealership also are west of the interchange.
Traffic will only get worse
More than 14,000 vehicles a day travel the stretch of Highway 51 from Route T in Perryville to the I-55 interchange, MoDOT statistics show.
Traffic only will get worse when a new McDonald's restaurant and a truck stop open later this year, Besand said. The old McDonald's restaurant was torn down to make room for the new venture.
Traffic lights have been a priority for the city since the Wal-Mart store opened, said Craig Lindsley, Perryville city administrator.
The state is administering the project and will maintain the signals once they are erected. But the city is using its share of federal road money to pay the $123,000 cost of installation, Lindsley said.
Without such funding, the project still would be on the drawing board, he said.
MoDOT is paying for the traffic lights at the Cape Girardeau intersection. The city of Cape Girardeau, in turn, has paid for traffic signal work at another intersection in the city.
335-6611, extension 123