By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian
The Missouri Department of Transportation closed the southbound Interstate 55 ramps at the old Highway 74 interchange on Wednesday in a move to alleviate massive rush-hour traffic congestion farther south on the interstate at the Diversion Channel bridge near Nash Road.
State highway officials acted after southbound traffic backed up for miles on I-55 during evening rush hour on Tuesday. Traffic was backed up nearly to the U.S. 61 exit between Cape Girardeau and Jackson causing delays of nearly an hour and a half for some southbound motorists, state highway officials said.
A number of motorists turned around rather than endure the slow moving line of vehicles on South Kingshighway.
Officials blamed the backup on the closing of Highway 74 in Dutchtown, Mo., because of flooding and construction work on the Diversion Channel bridge.
"We've only got one lane for southbound traffic on the bridge," said MoDOT engineer Barry Horst.
With the route into Dutchtown closed by high water, area drivers heading south have no choice but to use I-55, adding to traffic congestion at the Diversion Channel bridge, Horst said.
Scott Meyer, MoDOT district engineer, said highway crews didn't get barricades on the southbound ramps at the old Highway 74 interchange until late Wednesday afternoon. By that time, traffic already was heavy on the interstate.
Still, Meyer said he believed the move helped move cars through the traffic bottleneck.
But he said the traffic is still causing congestion on Cape Girardeau city streets.
"This is temporary," Meyer said of closing the southbound I-55 ramps at the Dutchtown exit. "We are evaluating it day to day."
Meyer suggested motorists carpool, cutting down on traffic on the interstate. "That would be a great thing," he said. "If you're going to be stuck in traffic, find somebody you enjoy talking to," he said.
Another option for motorists is to cross the Mississippi River bridge at Cape Girardeau and take Illinois Route 3 south to Interstate 57 and then west to Sikeston, Mo.
"I think it probably is an alternative for people going a good distance south," he said.
335-6611, extension 123