A citizen’s advisory group (CAG) for the new Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River is looking at ways to improve the Hwy. 79 and Hwy. 54 intersection in front of the bridge in Louisiana.
The eleven-member CAG is made up residents in small and large business, the arts, government and in environment concerns.
The group has met several times to discuss the bridge and options for the busy intersection in recent months. No firm plan for the interesection has been reached yet, according to MoDOT officials.
MoDOT “is trying to figure out how to do this,” said CAG member Betty Allen. “They would like to straighten out the highway a bit but they don’t how far they can go on either side. There’s a lower road on the north side (Gap Street behind the Ayerco Station) and the other way would affect the gas stations,” Ayerco on the southeast corner and Abel’s on the southwest corner.
There’s been talk of a roundabout that didn’t get too far, Allen said. Neither did the idea of building the bridge at Clarksville.
“There are people not from here who are use to going right onto a bridge without a stop sign too,” Allen said of yet another idea.
“Nothing has been satisfactory,” to the CAG yet for the intersection change.
“The only thing we’ve decided is to keep the name the same, the Champ Clark Bridge,” Allen said. An idea to rename the bridge after 13th amendment co-author John B. Henderson was dismissed in deference to the history of the current Champ Clark Bridge, Allen said.
There have been three suggestions for the intersection left on MoDOT’s Hwy. 54 bridge replacement website.
One of them calls for a wider turning radius in the intersection to accommodate larger trucks.
Another seeks “better right and left turn lanes for Hwy. 79 traffic and for traffic going between downtown and the bridge. Walkways and bike lanes to support the businesses, especially since it is likely these types of facilities will exist on the new bridge.”
A third suggestion calls for a Missouri rest stop and information center at the corner.
Meanwhile, MoDOT has officially added the intersection improvement to the bridge project scope.
“Since the new bridge will more than likely come in around the same location it is now, we see this as an opportunity to make some safety and mobility improvements,” said Keith Killen, bridge project manager for MoDOT. “We asked people at the last public meeting, as well as on our website, their thoughts about making improvements, and for now, most seem to be for it,” he said.
“More than likely, a major improvement to this area will have significant impacts to businesses and some residences in that area, yet what we are hearing from our citizen’s advisory group is to keep it in the purpose and need, which does not commit us to what exactly the improvements will be,” Killen said.
He indicated those improvements would be addressed during the design process, which typically does not begin until the project is funded, and a new bridge is not listed on the state’s five-year transportation program.
While a decision is made, or not, on the intersection, area residents soon could see some activity in the Champ Clark Bridge area on both sides of the river.
“As we progress through the environmental assessment, we have to research the historic impacts a new bridge would have in the area,” Killen said.
Killen said environmental and historic specialists are expected to be in the Louisiana area this summer to begin that research.
“We are looking for anything of significant historical purpose, such as Native American artifacts, burial grounds, items of that nature,” he added.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is partnering with the University of Illinois – Champaign to do the same on the east side of the river.
Killen said a web site was developed specifically for this project, partially because of the large expanse of area impacted by the bridge, and also because of the convenience of the Internet.
“We realize folks are busy and don’t always have time for traditional, on-site public meetings, and since nearly everyone is online nowadays, this tool seemed like the right fit, and it has been,” Killen said.
There are 80 active participants on the website, with more than 1,300 visitors and 8,000 page views. Right now, the active topic is seeking input about improvements that could be made at the intersections of Hwy. 54 and Hwy. 79. The web address is www.champclarkbridge.com.
Information about the environmental assessment of the Champ Clark Bridge, as well as previous public meeting information, can be found online at www.modot.org, or by calling Killen at 660-385-8638.