The Union City administrator says timing of the newest plan to alleviate traffic problems plaguing Highway 47 is cause for excitement.
Monday night aldermen agreed to a plan between the city and Franklin County to team up to fund a major road project. The deal pushes forward a plan to build a new Union Expressway and realign Highway 47 north and south.
Russell Rost, Union city administrator, said the city is excited about the agreement for several reasons — particularly the timing.
“Instead of something that may be funded in 2040, we’re looking at something that could be funded and built starting in about three years,” Rost said. “There’s a lot of steps that have to be taken, and failure of any one of those could put everything back to square one, but we expect it to work.”
The city has spent at least the past decade seeking answers for the Highway 47 traffic. Along the way, the city has been told by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) that a fix is in its long-range plans, but nothing would likely start until at least the 2040s because of funding.
MoDOT said the only way to move forward is to find other sources of funding. The city and county agreed to team up to help push the project forward.
Under the agreement, both sides will work to secure funding to create a mile-long, two-lane expressway. The Union Expressway will run from Highway 47 at Old County Farm Road to the current alignment of south Highway 47 at Highway 50.
The northern end of the expressway will feature a two-lane roundabout on Highway 47 and the southern portion will culminate in a four-way stop intersection.
The plan is a change from what the city originally thought it was going to do. For a long time, the city supported a plan to extend Highway 47 south and go behind Dickey Bub Farm & Home before connecting with the southern part of Highway 47.
The Dickey Bub route was one of several options to fix the traffic issues compiled in an August 2017 study by the St. Louis-based Lochmueller Group. When the city and county agreed to team up, Union aldermen hired Cochran, Union, to explore the Lochmueller Group options more in depth.
Rost said Cochran found the Dickey Bub plan wasn’t the best way forward.
“When (Cochran) started looking at the project, they found that the calculations indicated that it would not solve the problem,” he said. “In fact, they said it would only minimally improve things.”
Based on that information, Rost said Cochran began looking at the other routes to see if one of those could help the traffic issues. Rost said the new option with the roundabout and expressway has a major impact based on Cochran’s findings.
“It made all of the traffic counts work at the green level,” he said. “They use red through green, so it fixes the problem.”
Additionally, Rost said the city likes the plan because it has the lowest economic impact. He said with a traditional bypass, the businesses at the Highway 47 and Highway 50 intersection would be cut off.
“We didn’t want a bypass,” Rost said. “We wanted the least economic impact that moved traffic better.”
With a roundabout, drivers can still access those businesses at the Highway 47 and Highway 50 intersection.
“Traffic flowing into that area would clearly have access to the businesses and would have an easy on/off access,” he said. “If they wanted to go to McDonald’s they could just keep going straight. With Dickey Bub and QuikTrip, the traffic would still flow the same way.”
Rost said the new route is something the city actually considered years ago and something he was in favor of for some time.
Cost also played a role in supporting the new route. The Dickey Bub route carried an estimated $18 million price tag. The new route is estimated to cost around $12.1 million.
“Over the years, MoDOT favored the other route,” he said. “When we saw this, and saw the cost difference and the potential to start construction by 2023, it just made perfect sense to pursue it.”
The proposed roundabout at Old County Farm Road is key to the whole project. Rost said the numbers show it should help keep cars moving and avoid traffic problems.
The city is a longtime supporter of roundabouts, Rost said. The city has used roundabouts to address traffic problems near Union High School, East Central College and at Highway A and Independence Drive.
Rost said each roundabout has been a success for the city. He said when they were being built, the city received a number of complaints. After opening the intersections, the complaints dried up.
“When we built the first roundabout, we relied on engineering research,” Rost said. “We had to trust on faith that it was going to solve the problem. After we built the first one, right on top of the high school where we had a huge congestion problem every day, we saw the impact. The complaints all went away. The people who were skeptical suddenly loved them.”
Rost said the project will start moving forward next month.
In November, the city will seek funding approval by MoDOT and the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. That approval would make it eligible for federal grants.
If approved, the city and county would then apply for federal monies in February 2020.
The total cost of the roadway is estimated at $10,209,738.01. The city intends to apply for federal grants to cover around $6,936,406, meaning the local share would be approximately $3,273,332.
In addition, the roundabout carries an estimated price tag of $1,978,915.60. The county also will apply for grant funding and said the local share is approximately $660,003.
The total local share for the roadway and roundabout would be $3,933,335. The city and county both agreed to a 50/50 split of the local share if both grants are awarded.
The agreement is void if the grants are not received, Rost said.