I-70 ready for a bump-free ride

“Really what we’re asking is for the local traffic to avoid that area for the next year so we don’t have problems,” said Chip Jones, Missouri Department of Transportation project manager.

For the next year, Columbia residents can expect slowdowns and backups along Interstate 70 and some intersections as the freeway is taken over by construction.

Construction began Aug. 24 around Business Loop 70, Garth Avenue and Rangeline Street to replace the I-70 bridges at those locations. The new bridges will feature wider shoulders as well as an easy ability to be expanded in the future if necessary. Closures at Garth Avenue and Rangeline Street will be intermittent, but closures will be posted online ahead of time. Sidewalks in all of the affected areas will also be closed for the next few months. Emery Sapp and Sons was hired to design and implement the changes.

Project manager Chip Jones said the replacement was necessary due to the age and condition of the bridges.

“The bridges that we are replacing were built in 1957 and they served their useful purpose, and with 80,000 cars (per day) on I-70 they need to be replaced,” Jones said. “They are still safe to drive on but they are deteriorating. They just need to be replaced because they’re worn out.”

Travis Koestner, the Missouri Department of Transportation project manager, agreed that the bridges being replaced were safe, but required constant patching.

“They cost us a lot of money in maintenance.” Koestner said. “They are safe, but they are pretty expensive and they’re rough. We have to patch a lot of holes in them, but by patching the holes, we keep them safe to drive on.”

Because MoDOT decided to use a design-build method, in which only one company handles both the designing and building of the project, Koestner said they are likely getting more out of the $18 million job than with “conventional methods of building,” where separate designers and contractors would be hired.

According to their website, MoDOT has the authority to use design-build contracts for up to two percent of state highway system projects each fiscal year. MoDOT says the design-build technique is “known to significantly save time and provide cost savings.”

The project, which is set to be finished by October 2016, should not have much of an impact on traffic in the next few months, Jones said. However, starting in the winter, drivers may face more difficulty. In December, westbound traffic will be diverted north, and eastbound traffic will go to the westbound lanes. At that time, the speed limit will be reduced to 50 mph.

“Really what we’re asking is for the local traffic to avoid that area for the next year so we don’t have problems,” Jones said.

However, some who still take the road regularly are already noticing slowdowns, like MU sophomore Nathan Gardner, who drives on I-70 several times a month.

“(The construction) adds five to 10 minutes to a drive and is unsafe since the slowdown comes so fast and the lanes are so narrow,” Gardner said. “But I still take that route because it is the only major road to take when heading that direction. In the long run, it will be nice for those to be redone, but now it’s annoying.”

Koestner said he thinks the biggest traffic grievances will come in the spring, when Business Loop 70 will be closed for 45 consecutive days. Throughout the construction, traffic jams are going to be minimized “as much as possible,” Koestner said.

“We are going to keep two lanes in each direction of I-70 always going during peak times, (but) there will be some nighttime lane closures,” Koestner said.

The project will also affect pedestrians with sidewalks closing along Rangeline Street between I-70 and Vandiver Drive for the next few months. Maps of pedestrian routes can be found online and in laminated form near the closures. COMO Connect routes will also be posted near sidewalk closures for pedestrians who wish to take a bus to get around the construction. Jones said that though pedestrian detours are an inconvenience, it is in the interest of pedestrians’ safety to not be in the area of the construction.

For the duration of the project, MoDOT will post progress and future work or closures online. The department is also providing weekly email updates on the project, which can be signed up for on their website.

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