In order to move forward on any fiscal plans for the Highway 47 corridor in Franklin County, a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study must be completed.
Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Area Engineer Judy Wagner told the Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee Tuesday that the study could cost nearly $1 million.
The study must be fully funded and completed before any discussions can continue on updating the Highway 47 corridor. Wagner said a study could take as long as three to five years to complete.
Before a NEPA study can be conducted, the money for the study and at least half of the funding for the project must be accounted for.
“We don’t allow the study to start until we know we have some money for construction,” Wagner said. “That’s been a rule that East-West Gateway and MoDOT put out a few years ago because we were getting all these studies and they just don’t have a shelf life to actually bring them into construction.”
John Nilges, Washington Public Works Director, said that he and Franklin County Commissioner Tim Brinker spoke with a consultant in early May on how to fund the NEPA study.
Brinker was unable to attend the meeting due to the Franklin County commissioners meeting taking place at the same time.
Funding for the study hasn’t been identified yet, nor has the funding needed for construction.
Nilges said that he and Brinker haven’t had a chance to discuss the options with anyone yet and hope to have a recommendation in June. It will be a cost-share between Franklin County and the municipalities along the Highway 47 corridor such as Washington, Union and St. Clair. Brinker told The Missourian that he put a “simple ‘example’ on paper,” and it has been perceived as a proposal.
Brinker said he is still working on a recommendation by gathering representatives from all shareholders involved on how to pay for any Highway 47 project.
The environmental study is important because it will help determine the options that may work. It has been estimated that it could cost $80-100 million to complete the major corridor project from Washington to St. Clair. Wagner said that Brinker was looking into completing smaller portions at a time in order to mitigate the cost of doing it all at once.
The study would determine the right of way necessary to create the route. Wagner said the study will determine the best routes to avoid environmental issues such as avoiding endangered species, create the best traffic flow and build around residential areas.
“That’s why it gets up to $100 million,” Wagner said. “It’s anywhere between $80-100 million because there is so much right of way that would be required depending on the alternate that’s chosen. So for example, a direct alignment for moving Highway 47 South to line up with Highway 47 North, you’ve got a nice home that sits up there, you’ve got another home behind it, you’ll have to make a bridge-crossing.”
This project is going to be long-term, if seen through.
“This is going to be a long trek to get this done,” Bill Straatmann, chairman of the committee said. “It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen in five years, it’s probably not going to happen in 10 years. So, there’s got to be a long-term plan.”
A NEPA environmental assessment was conducted in 1997 for construction on Highway 47 near Union. It took five years to complete before work could even be done.
Wagner said that study is no longer relevant because it is 17 years old.
As area lawmakers assess the best way to go about reconstructing Highway 47, MoDOT’s tier ranking system is downgrading the highway’s priority. Wagner said that two years ago, it ranked as a tier-one illustrative project —— the highest ranking in the system. It is now ranked tier-three.
Brinker said that safety and economic stimulus for the region is why he is advocating for reconstruction on Highway 47. Committee member Ray Frankenberg II agreed with that sentiment.
“I want to throw out there how important I think it is for Franklin County, Washington, Union and everybody in the county that we concentrate somewhat on the connection between (Washington) and Union,” Frankenberg said.
Frankenberg described the industry and jobs in both Washington and Union.
“We’ve got a clogged highway in the middle that’s going to overburden Highway A, Highway B and all these others as it goes,” Frankenberg said. “I think the idea of having a small step to get the whole big thing that may take 20, 30 or 40 years to get done, is important that we do the small step to fuel this economic engine.”
Before any construction begins on Highway 47, the NEPA study will need to be funded first.