The proposed cost to make the 13-mile section of Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair a four-lane divided highway is $70 million, which equates to about $5.3 million per mile.
On Wednesday the Highway 47 committee, made up of representatives from Franklin County, Union, Washington and St. Clair, agreed tackling the entire corridor at the same time isn’t realistic.
Instead, the focus has shifted to what is being referred to as the “middle section,” which lies squarely in the Union city limits and encompasses the Highway 47 and 50 interchange, a railroad overpass and bridge over the Bourbeuse River.
A traffic safety study completed last summer identified seven different options to fix the problems on Highway 47.
The committee has narrowed the seven options down to one called Concept 3 and the focus is shifting to how to pay for it.
After a tragic quadruple fatality crash on Highway 47 south of Union a few weeks ago, Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker has been meeting with officials at the state and federal levels to come up with a plan to secure funds for the project.
At the meeting this week, Brinker brought some of those ideas to city managers and engineers of the towns affected by the Highway 47 corridor.
The key to the entire plan will be local matching funds in some form or another from the county and the cities of Washington, Union and St. Clair.
“I know we are all on board, but how do we come up with funding when it comes to this group?” Brinker asked. “The county is prepared to go deep and bear the lion’s share of the match money. We have funding available annually.”
Although the county is willing to take the lead, the exact percentages have not yet been discussed.
Brinker added by focusing on just one section of the project sooner than later, there is not only a better chance to get it done, but at a lower price.
“Today’s dollars are more valuable than tomorrow’s dollars,” Brinker said. “We need to get a more detailed cost analysis of the middle section to see the exact numbers we are working with.”
He proposed having the Lochmueller Group, which conducted the traffic safety study, prepare the more intensive cost analysis at a cost of perhaps $10,000.
“What’s it going to cost to find out what it’s going to cost?” Brinker said. “We really need a finite number.”
Because of the major highway crossroads, railroad and river bridge in Union, the projected cost is roughly $30 million.
Brinker brought several options to pursue matching funds from regional, state and federal sources, which would essentially leave $15 million for local municipalities to shoulder.
One of the options talked about Wednesday is using the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Cost Share program.
One sticking point to the MoDOT Cost Share is communities must guarantee they have their portions of the matching funds available up front.
If the smaller entities can’t commit their portions up front, Brinker floated the idea of the county bonding the entire amount and then the communities paying the county back instead.
Union City Administrator Russell Rost told the committee the city council and new mayor are in support of moving forward with the committee’s proposal.
“These numbers seem to be in the ballpark of when we (Union) did Highway 50,” he said. “We managed that, we can manage this.”
Rost also referenced the recent head-on crash that killed four members of the same family and said more major crashes occur along Highway 47 south of Union and most of the severe accidents happen in that stretch because of the increased speeds.
Concept 3 provided in the Highway 47 traffic study, and informally accepted by the committee, lays out a near eastern bypass around the city of Union using the existing corridor both north and south of the city and adding new roads as well.
Beginning in the south (St. Clair), Highway 47 would be four lanes until just north of the cemetery near Meade Farm Road, then split as a four-lane bypass around Union, utilizing new roads.
The existing Highway 47 would remain two lanes in front of the mostly residential section that is littered with numerous access points like road entrances and driveways.
Regional trips would bypass the current Highway 47/50 intersections, and volume at these two existing intersections would drop, resulting in lower traffic levels and faster travel times through the heavily congested area.
The corridor would cross Highway 50 just east of the exiting eastern Highway 47/50 intersection.
One bridge would be required to cross both the river and the railroad before the corridor connects with Highway 47 north of Union.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The study also lays out several strengths and weaknesses to Concept 3:
Limited access corridor where access management best practices can be implemented.
Future commercial on virgin ground instead of displacing existing residents.
Fewer residential properties disturbed, and potentially less rights of way to purchase.
Opens additional areas of Union to be developed near Highway V and Independence Drive.
Reduces commuter traffic in front of residential properties and reduces congestion on existing Highway 47.
Reduces congestion through central Union.
Provides through route access for emergency services during heavy rain/flooding events.
Significant cost, not easily implemented.
Does not resolve existing access management issues on southern half of southern segment.
Reduced traffic through older parts of Union may have negative economic impact in that area.
Requires a significant amount of bridge structure.
Places a high-speed, high-volume road near relatively new residential uses.
County Highway Administrator Ron Williams was tasked with contacting the Lochmueller Group and a tentative meeting is scheduled for early May.