In a teleconference with state transportation officials, Franklin County commissioners were urged that much needs to be done before two major highways can be converted from two to four lanes.
Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker called the Monday meeting to discuss the proposed “4-Lanes for Franklin” project, which, if fully funded, would widen Highway 47 from Washington to St. Clair and Highway 50 from Union to Interstate 44. The county is preparing in anticipation of approval for President Joe Biden’s estimated $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
“The thing that came to mind in this craziness that’s coming down the pike potentially from the feds is the fact that, look, we need to be prepared for anything that might be coming our way infrastructurally,” Brinker said. “I started thinking, ‘What is our most immediate need?’ What we have not jumped on is the 47-50 corridor study.”
A $150,000 taxpayer-funded study, completed in 2018 by the Lochmueller Group, found justification for widening the 13-mile Highway 47 corridor to four lanes, Brinker said.
“It’s in the study, it’s a recognized need,” he said. “We just need to make sure that we stay on top and make sure it is a priority that is recognized by all entities.”
Tom Blair, St. Louis District engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), said Highway 47 is in tier 3 of his agency’s long-range plan. Blair said Brinker and his team should focus on moving it up in the 2023 plan for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.
“I think in a long line, it’s way out there. That’s just reality,” Blair said.
But Blair added that the county has been consistent in Highway 47 being the top priority for county transportation.
After the transportation officials hung up, commissioners questioned whether ranking on MoDOT’s list was as important as the agency thinks it is.
“I think we saw with the Rocheport bridge up there in Boone County. That was way down the list. Now that’s getting done,” Commissioner Dave Hinson said of the Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River. “It’s all about MoDOT and us working together at the federal level.”
Earlier, Blair suggested more research on the highways will need to be done beyond the Lochmueller study. He said St. Charles County recently spent $1.5 million on a more expansive corridor study that has taken two years.
“That Lochmueller study was not a MoDOT study. It doesn’t check all the boxes,” he said. “I think it’s something good to start with, but it’s not something you can just take and say ‘Now I’m funding a project and ready to start.’ We’re a long ways from shovel-ready for corridor-wide improvements.”
Brinker pointed out that the Lochmueller study was used in getting funding from MoDOT for the planned Union Expressway, a $12 million bypass of the current Highway 47 and 50 intersections in Union.
“I firmly believe that without the study that we did, we wouldn’t be able to have the expressway where it is right now, in the process of getting things accomplished,” he said.
The four-lane project would not impact construction of the Union Expressway, which is in the preliminary phases now and is expected to begin construction in 2023, Brinker said after the meeting.
“That’s already rolling, that’s going to happen,” he said. “These are the next steps on the 47 route.”
“It enhances it,” Hinson added.
The expressway includes a bridge over the Bourbeuse River that is built for four lanes but will initially be two lanes, Hinson said.
Union City Administrator Jonathan Zimmermann was asked about the four-lane project’s possible impact on the Union Expressway at a Monday city committee meeting. He said he plans to discuss the issue with Brinker and others Wednesday.
Brinker added that the Lochmueller study shows “minimal” impact on the Bourbeuse River by widening the highway to four lanes, saying that is the largest environmental question with the highway-widening project.
Funding not certain
With a gas tax increase moving through the state Legislature, Blair added “there’s a lot going on.”
“We have a president that’s proposed something that’s big,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that has to happen to get that across the finish line with Congress. We all have our fingers crossed something that’s a more sustained investment in our country does get through Congress and to the president’s desk. At the national level, we haven’t seen a dramatic increase in our funding for transportation.”
Blair noted that similar action has been proposed under previous presidents but has not always passed. “We can’t count on that money yet,” he said. “There’s still a long road.”
Blair praised the efforts of state Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, to get state transportation funding. “We’ve seen this before, where the Senate, a smaller group, gets done, and the House, a lot larger group, doesn’t get it across,” he said. “Hopefully something positive comes out of all of this at the state and national level.”
Blair also suggested MoDOT would work on what is next on the agency’s regional long-range transportation plan. As of MoDOT’s 2019 unfunded needs list, the only Franklin County project was for the realignment of Highway 47 at Highway 50 in Union.
Although not much was said about the Highway 50 widening, Brinker said after the meeting he is confident it will get support.
“It’s a main artery that goes to the city of Union and continues to our capital (Jefferson City),” he said.