Jackson, Cape want lights at junction

Monday, December 16, 2002

Center Junction, the common name for the intersection of U.S. 61 and Interstate 55 at the city limits of Cape Girardeau and Jackson, is too dark at night, officials from both cities say.

In an attempt to brighten the area to the same standard as other exits like the Oak Ridge interchange, the councils from both towns signed a joint resolution in hopes of persuading the Missouri Department of Transportation to erect street lights in the area.

"When the interchange was built, I'm sure the standards didn't require street lights," said Jackson public works director Rodney Bollinger. "Now they don't build interchanges without them. There are other interchanges up and down I-55 that don't have as much traffic flow and they're all lit."

Scott Meyer, district engineer with MoDOT, said the department had not received the resolution from either city yet, but that the area would be looked at and considered for lighting improvement. He said that MoDOT does install street lights at all newly constructed interchanges, but that MoDOT has not set a policy where it will put street lights at all previously existing exits.

He didn't know how feasible the project is.

"It can be a safety factor," Meyer said. "But you can't say without qualification that they will make it significantly safer. We'll look at the accident history, look at what we're dealing with, and if there is a common theme that could be solved with lights, that's one of the things we'll be looking for. But you've got to have a reason to spend taxpayer money here rather than on something else."

The public works directors in Cape Girardeau and Jackson both said that MoDOT would be financially responsible for the upgrade because both highways are under the state's jurisdiction.

But state officials say MoDOT's budget is tight -- tight enough that the state put a transportation tax hike on the ballot earlier this year. The tax was defeated handily.

Should MoDOT find it necessary to install street lights, then it would have to prioritize the project as well. Meyer said the state has issued permits for cities to put up lights at interchanges.

"That may be an option," he said.

Volume of traffic

Officials from Cape Girardeau and Jackson point to the volume of traffic as a major reason why the lights are needed.

Traffic counts from 2001 show that 24,000 vehicles travel that stretch daily, and engineers estimate that number could rise to 35,000 by 2022. Since 1998, there have been 161 vehicle accidents at Center Junction, 34 of them occurring when it was dark.

"The concern at the interchange is the actual size of it and the number of intersecting ramps and other features like frontage roads," said Doug Leslie, public works director for Cape Girardeau. "It's larger and has different geometry than most interchanges, and for that reason we feel lighting is an important feature."

Rhonda Clark-Ross, a Jackson resident who travels that area after dark almost nightly after getting off work, thinks the area does need some lighting.

"It's not a very well-lit area, and with it being a rural area, there's a chance for animals to run out without you seeing them," she said. "And if you ever broke down on the side of the road, it would be nice to have lighting so you don't get run over."

Some have never paid attention to how dark it is at Center Junction.

"I never even thought about it," said Jackson resident Bill King.

Bollinger said King is not alone.

"To people who were born and raised here, they're just used to it being dark because they've never seen anything different," he said.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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