The bridge is open and the traffic is flowing, what’s next?
If you ask civic leaders from both Franklin and Warren counties, the answer is improvements to Highway 47 on both sides of the river.
At a meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission held in Washington Wednesday, thanks were first given for the new bridge, but in the next breath the six-member commission was asked to take a hard look at the expansion of the corridor between Washington and Union.
Washington businessman L.B. Eckelkamp told the commission a dual-lane highway is needed between the two cities, much like the improvements made to Highway 100, and could be funded in the same manner.
“The dual-lane Highway 100 has been a great asset to our community,” he said. “It was funded with a cost-sharing program.”
Eckelkamp explained before Highway 100 was expanded, people could not get in and out of town quickly or easily, which is the same problem occurring in the Highway 47 corridor now.
“If we don’t get on this as soon as possible, we can’t do business,” he said. “Union is our county seat and Washington is the biggest city. At the busiest times of day, there is no way to get in and out of town. The bottleneck at Highway 50 in Union also needs attention.”
Eckelkamp said in his opinion, the 6 miles of Highway 47 congestion is at a “crisis state” and a cost-share is the only way the project could get done.
“I know we just got something and now we are asking for something else,” he told the commission. “We need Union to help and we need the county to help.”
In 2005, 54 percent of Washington residents voted for a half-cent transportation sales tax to cost-share the Highway 100 improvements with the state.
The original cost estimate was $47 million for the project, which was constructed in two phases. The first was adding lanes from Highway 47 to the east city limits at a cost of $7.1 million. The second phase was from the east city limits to I-44, with the cost about $33.5 million.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker informed the commission several steps had already been taken to prepare the corridor for expansion and although the expansion is not shovel ready, it has a good head start if state funds become available.
Brinker told the commission about the yearlong traffic study that was recently completed on the full 13-mile Highway 47 corridor from the Missouri River in Washington, through Union and on to St. Clair.
In August, the $185,000 taxpayer-funded study on Highway 47 was presented and well-received by Missouri Department of Transportation officials.
Franklin County pledged $75,000, the cities of Union and Washington both pledged $50,000, and the Union and Washington Special Road districts put in $5,000 each to fund the study.
In all, the study offers seven major long-term options, all very similar in cost, which include some form of rerouting the highway.
Each of the long-term options have costs in the $60 million range.
The opening of the new Highway 47 bridge will have the obvious benefits to local drivers, but is a first major step in a more direct link between Interstate 44 in Franklin County and Interstate 70 in Warren County.
Although daily traffic congestion on the 22-mile stretch of Highway 47 between Washington and Warrenton is lighter than the Washington/Union stretch, many of the same issues arise like numerous curves, hills and only two lanes.
Booneslick Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) Executive Director Chad Eggen addressed the commission about the Interstates 44 and 70 connection and possibly a causeway utilizing Highway 47 or Highway 94 in St. Charles County to keep traffic flowing and give residents continued access to services, especially during flooding on the Warren County side of the river.
Eggen noted the BRPC has applied for a $25 million federal grant for transportation improvements to possibly tie into the new bridge and improvements, and continue them toward Warren and St. Charles counties.
Highway commission member John Briscoe, D-New London, cautioned there are lots of communities with lots of needs.