Police want new MoDOT response to I-55 traffic

Friday, May 17, 2002

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

Traffic tie-ups on southbound lanes of Interstate 55 have slowed evening rush hour traffic to a crawl in the Cape Girardeau area, frustrating motorists and prompting police to ask state highway officials to alleviate the bottleneck at the Diversion Channel bridge, partially closed for construction.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials said they are considering the possibility of using two of the three available bridge lanes for northbound traffic during morning rush hour and two for southbound traffic during the evening rush hour.

But until a decision is reached, drivers continue to sit. Christy Mott, a teacher's aide at Central Junior High School in Cape Girardeau, said it took her an hour and 20 minutes to get to Scott City, Mo., Wednesday afternoon, a journey that normally takes about 10 minutes.

"My blood was boiling when I got home," she said.

Construction work on the bridge has reduced southbound traffic to one lane. One northbound lane has been torn out as part of the construction project, leaving only three lanes crossing the Diversion Channel. Northbound traffic is using two of those lanes.

The closing of old Highway 74 and Highway 25 at Dutchtown, Mo., because of Diversion Channel flooding has dumped more traffic onto I-55, the only southbound route open on the Missouri side of the swollen Mississippi River.

"There is just more traffic than there is room," said Stan Johnson, MoDOT area engineer.

Police chief Steve Strong recommended Thursday that the state allow two lanes for southbound traffic, particularly since flooding temporarily has halted construction work on the bridge.

Johnson is concerned the switch would just send the problem in another direction, backing up a single lane of northbound traffic.

Johnson said switching traffic flow to handle morning and evening rush hours might help, but it's unclear how long it would take to get signals in place to control access to the middle lane.

The flooding might end before that happens, he said. The Mississippi River stood at 44 feet at Cape Girardeau on Thursday. It's predicted to crest at 47 feet Sunday, 15 feet above flood stage.

But Johnson said he doesn't know how long it will be before Diversion Channel floodwaters recede at Dutchtown. The Diversion Channel empties into the Mississippi River south of Cape Girardeau.

MoDOT sought to alleviate the traffic tie-ups by closing two southbound I-55 ramps at the old Highway 74 interchange on Wednesday in an effort to keep from dumping more traffic onto the interstate just north of the Diversion Channel Bridge.

Johnson said the move appeared to speed up traffic flow.

But Strong said it led to traffic gridlock in the city, backing up traffic on new Highway 74 and at major intersections along Kingshighway.

"We considered putting officers on I-55, but it wouldn't do any good," he said. "There is no place to direct people."

He urged MoDOT to reopen the southbound ramps, but highway officials kept the ramps barricaded.

Johnson said, "We felt we had to do something. This was something we could do fairly quickly."

MoDOT officials, he said, will consider the police department's suggestions and other possible solutions. But Johnson offered no timetable for any decision.

Meanwhile, frustrations mount for area motorists who daily are stuck in rush hour traffic on the interstate.

Donna Bedwell, a Central Junior High School teacher, didn't leave Cape Girardeau until 7:20 p.m. Wednesday for her home in Scott City. "It took me a little over 30 minutes to get home," she said. "That is ridiculous. That is absurd."

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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