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MoDOT still at drawing board on Route 54 project

by Ryan Pivoney | March 14, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
MoDOT officials still weigh options regarding the U.S. 54 project in north Jefferson City. The public comment period has ended on the project, which could possibly eliminate the Route W entrance to the westbound U.S. 54 Missouri River bridge and the westbound exit loop to Route W. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

It's been more than two months since local leaders told the Missouri Department of Transportation to go back to the drawing board on its project to expand Route 54 just north of Jefferson City.

Still in the design phase, MoDOT is no closer to deciding how to proceed with the three plans it proposed.

"I honestly don't know which way we're going to go yet," James Beattie, MoDOT project manager, told the News Tribune.

Beattie said the department is actively meeting to decide how to proceed with the westbound portion of the project, which drew the most criticism from elected city and county officials, landowners and residents at MoDOT's Jan. 10 public meeting to discuss the project.

Starting in 2024, MoDOT wants to widen the portion of Route 54 between the Missouri River bridge and the Route 63/Route 94 clover interchange to six lanes -- three lanes in each direction -- to reduce traffic congestion.

The eastbound side of the bridge (traveling out of the city) is wide enough to get a fourth lane after restriping, creating dedicated lanes to exit to Route W (Airport Road/Cedar City Drive) and Route 63.

The river bridge isn't wide enough to add an additional westbound lane, according to MoDOT, so the department is working to figure out how to create a dedicated lane for drivers exiting Route 63 onto westbound Route 54.

MoDOT unveiled three proposals in December, all of which would close the Route W ramp onto Route 54. One option would eliminate the ramp entirely while the other two proposals call for the construction of new ramps.

The first option would completely eliminate the westbound ramp from Route W to Route 54, significantly extending the travel path from Jefferson City Memorial Airport to the rest of the city. Drivers would be forced up Hibernia Road/Wehmeyer Drive to Route 94 or up Cedar City Drive/Renz Farm Road to Highway 63. According to MoDOT, the $4.5 million option wouldn't impact access to the Katy Trail or North Jefferson City Recreation Area.

The second proposal would remove the westbound ramp from Route W and replace it with a new ramp using Fourth Street. It totals more than $4.7 million and would have some impact on access to the Katy Trail and North Jefferson City Recreation Area, according to MoDOT, as traffic would increase on Fourth Street.

The final option would close the westbound ramp from Route W and add an entirely new loop ramp with a right-hand entrance before Fourth Street. Beattie said the loop ramp is more closely aligned to the kind of exits MoDOT uses.

According to MoDOT, the third, and most expensive option at nearly $5 million, would cause the greatest impact to accessing the Katy Trail and North Jefferson City Recreation Area because the proposed location for the new loop ramp would require moving several elements, such as the playground and basketball courts.

All of the proposals maintain the three other exit and entrance ramps connecting Route 54 to Route W. Maps of the three configurations can be accessed online at

MoDOT received approximately 70 public comments on the planned project, which were collected online and in-person. Last November, the Jefferson City Council passed a resolution in opposition to removing the Route W ramp and sent a letter to MoDOT stating such.

Beattie said the comments indicate option 1, which would completely remove the exit ramp, "is not very popular," adding, "that was one that people didn't care for much."

Comments on the other two proposals are fairly split in support and opposition, he said.

Beattie said the department will use the comments in conjunction with its engineering judgment to pick a plan. He said he expects to have a decision within the next few weeks.

"We still have some people that are asking questions about these options and once we work through with them what options we're looking to do, what our limitations are and what the expectations are, then we'll make a decision on one of those three and proceed," Beattie said.

Some city and county leaders have said they would be fine with MoDOT proceeding with all parts of the project but the westbound lanes. Beattie said it isn't out of the question.

"It will be whatever the outcome of the meetings that we're having now," he said.

MoDOT is moving forward with other parts of the project.

"The eastbound lanes have pretty much been decided with what we want to do there," Beattie said. "We've not had any negative comments on those. What comments we have received about the eastbound lanes have been positive."

The project also involves adding acceleration lanes to Highway 94 just east of the Route 63 interchange and aligning Wehmeyer Drive to the entrance of Hitachi Energy. The Route W bridge and Route 63 bridges over Route 54 will get some maintenance work as well. Beattie said those designs are all "pretty much a done deal."

MoDOT's finalized project designs will be made public when it publishes the scope of the project for contractors. Contractors will begin bidding on the work this fall, Beattie said, and construction is expected to begin next year.

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