Wider is better on Siemers Drive

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Fashion Bug employee Ella Sperino's one-hour daily commute from Puxico, Mo., is long enough without traffic problems. And if the city of Cape Girardeau had stuck with its original plan, Sperino likely would still be fighting traffic on Siemers Drive until at least the summer of 2003.

But since the city agreed to let Drury Southwest widen the city street that runs between Wal-Mart and Target, Sperino and Cape Girardeau shoppers have enjoyed an easy-flowing, four-lane road since Thanksgiving.

The construction was completed in less than five months, and not once was the street closed to traffic.

The city also saved an estimated $447,000 by allowing the developers to widen the road, said Melanie Gertis, assistant to the city engineer. The project cost $1,114,124.

The Siemers operation was the third case where the city and a private developer have come to an agreement, and both the city and the builders say they benefit from such partnerships. The others included another project on Siemers Drive and one on Mount Auburn Road.

Drury, which has business interests along Siemers Drive, had the means and motivation to get the job done quickly. The company paid for the cost upfront and will be reimbursed by the city once the Transportation Trust Fund sales tax is collected. The road was originally 32 feet wide. The property owners paid for the cost of assessments for the first 8 feet of the widening and the city paid for the other 8 feet.

By doing the job itself, Drury could cut through most of the red tape that delays the city's projects.

"We wanted to get it done as soon as possible because new Realtors and buyers who would come into town saw the congestion," said Drury Southwest Inc. vice president Larry Westrich. "Buyers were questioning if traffic would be a problem. Now they see that it's been corrected."

And corrected sooner rather than later.

"Generally, Drury reduced the amount of red tape to get the project done quickly and it's beneficial to both us and the private sector," city manager Michael Miller said. "If the city does it, we have to go through a lot of design work that they don't have to do and the bidding process is much more unofficial. And very frankly, in the cases that we've done it, the developer has been willing to do the project cheaper than we could get it done."

Almost anyone who drove on Siemers before the construction work was done saw the need for more lanes. The only question was when.

"It's a lot better now," said Gary Miller, an employee of Circuit City, which is located on Siemers. "The traffic's pretty heavy around here, especially on the weekends."

Gertis said Drury had until February to complete construction, but Drury pushed up the timetable.

"Once we got started, we understood that all the owners of this project had to be done before Thanksgiving," Westrich said. "If we wouldn't have got it done, it would not have been a pretty sight."

"If they wouldn't have got it done before Thanksgiving, we would've had some big problems," said Sperino, the Fashion Bug worker. "It was pretty congested the day after Thanksgiving anyway. I think it would've hurt business because we had a hard time getting into the parking lot that day it was so busy."

Construction on the road began July 10 and all the concrete was poured and the road was open the day before Thanksgiving. The only thing left was painting the stripes.

On the surface, it appears that Drury completed the actual construction more quickly than the city would have. When the city widened New Madrid Street, for instance, parts of the street would be closed for as much as two weeks at a time. And because of other projects in the area, motorists were forced to take several detours to get to their destination.

But both Westrich and Michael Miller agreed that the Siemers project was less complex than the New Madrid Street widening.

"This was more of a simple, straight-forward thing," Miller said. "I don't think the actual time spent on the job itself would've been much longer if we did it."Westrich said most of the time saved was with the paperwork before the construction got started.

"I think we did an excellent job, but that's not to say another couldn't have come in and done the same job we did," Westrich said.

Because Drury owns businesses along Siemers Drive, it had reason to get the job done not just more quickly, but with less interference.

"The biggest thing is that we're working from both sides," Westrich said. "We're a land owner, a retailer, we're the people that own gas stations and we know what it can mean when you close down a road, so we did all we could to keep traffic from closing."

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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