Jackson wants more input on highway

Saturday, March 9, 2002

By Scott A. Lipke

JACKSON, Mo. -- Recently, there has been much discussion about the proposed widening of Highway 34/72 through Jackson. It revolves around the Missouri Department of Transportation's decision to widen this section of highway by utilizing four lanes with a barrier median instead of using five lanes including a middle turn lane.

Many business owners, homeowners and other resident have expressed their concern and opposition to the proposed four-lane highway. One concern is the median will substantially limit access to many businesses and home. Even though MoDOT has indicated there will be signal lights installed at several intersections as well as a few mid-block openings to permit left turns at specific locations, there is a great deal of concern about the U-turns that will be necessitated as a result of the median.

MoDOT states it has a had a policy change, and that is why it has chosen the four-lane option with a median versus the five-lane highway. MoDOT alleges this will reduce the number and severity of accidents along this route. In order to bolster its argument, MoDOT cites various statistics. First, it states that from 1996 to 2000 there have been 433 reported accidents along the existing five-lane section in Jackson from the Highway 34/72 intersection to Gloria Street. MoDOT also emphasizes that this number only includes accidents that have been reported to law-enforcement officials. Secondly, MoDOT notes that the accident rate is three to four times the statewide accident rate for a similar type of roadway.

Noticeably absent from the statistics MoDOT cites are the contributing circumstances to those accidents. I have reviewed statistics compiled by the Jackson Police Department, and they provide information that would appear to possibly contradict the information provided by MoDOT. As of this time, MoDOT's statistics do not show the number of accidents directly attributed to the middle turn lane.

Finally, MoDOT states the change in policy to four-lane roads with a media is for safety reasons. MoDOT says it will not be utilizing five-lane road systems anymore. Why is it, then, that a five-lane road is being built outside of Poplar Bluff? It is my understanding when that project was proposed three or four years ago, it was to be a three-lane road with a middle turn lane. MoDOT had already allocated the funding for the project. However, when the local community wanted it to be a five-lane road, MoDOT responded by saying only enough money had been allocated to build the three-lane road. When the local community was able to show MoDOT that a five-lane road would be more beneficial, they worked with different state agencies and private industry as well as the city to come up with the necessary funding to build a five-lane road.

The people deserve an answer from MoDOT, because it appears that MoDOT may not be as interested in safety as it is with the cost of adding the additional lane.

In much the same fashion, the city of Jackson should be allowed to explore similar avenues with state agencies and private industry in order to share the cost of the additional lane. Now is the time to do so, because it would be much easier to widen the road to five lanes now and add a median later if safety truly becomes an issue.

At the very least, it would appear that MoDOT should take another look at the statistics and continue to get feedback from the local community. Local residents want to have further discussions on this issue in the hope that in working together a proposal can be found that is satisfactory to all without sacrificing anyone's safety.

I have personally gathered commitments from state Reps. David Schwab, Rod Jetton, Jason Crowell and Rob Mayer along with Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, Jackson Mayor Paul Sander and Jackson Alderman Joe Bob Baker to attend a meeting with MoDOT and local residents to address old and new concerns alike. I urge everyone to watch for a notice of when this meeting will take place, and I urge everyone to attend.

Scott A. Lipke is a Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecuting attorney.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: