PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- New traffic lights activated two weeks ago at the interchange at Interstate 55 and Highway 51 already are being lauded as a change for the better.
"It was chaos before," said Perryville resident Bill Schumer. "You couldn't get off the highway when traffic was bad. You'd sit there forever. I think these lights are a big help -- a lot more convenient."
The Missouri Department of Transportation turned the lights on the first week of August. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission had awarded a $220,000 contract to Cotner Electric Co. of Cape Girardeau to do the signal work.
"Traffic congestion was pretty rough up there," said MoDOT resident engineer Bob Wilson, who designed the project. "It seems like since the Wal-Mart moved to the west side of the interstate, it had only gotten worse. We think this will relieve traffic congestion and make the interchange safer."
Perryville city administrator Craig Lindsley said it's already done that.
"I haven't gotten any direct feedback from residents, but I can tell you as a driver it sure makes things a lot easier and less congested," he said. "We've been waiting a long time for it to happen."
Lindsley said at the last board of alderman meeting, city leaders expressed their pleasure that the signal work was finally done.
Residents echoed that sentiment.
"It was just very hard before," said Howard Dickmann. "It's a lot better, just getting off the interstate was a huge hassle. It was dangerous."
Gene Carter is a St. Louis resident who travels I-55 frequently to get to his farm in Marble Hill. He said when he pulled off the highway Wednesday, he was glad to see the lights.
"It really just makes sense," he said. "We'd end up sitting there forever. It's going to be a lot easier to get into this town."
Traffic has increased since the Wal-Mart store opened in August 1998, and there have been 15 accidents at the spot in the last two years, police said. But those numbers belie the near misses that don't show up on the police logs.
"You'd have to try to zip through, and I don't know how many times you see people almost get hit or have to slam on their brakes," said Cassie Dover, a lifelong resident and employee at Motomart, a convenience store near the interchange. "It was just a mess."
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