By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
After further scrutiny, the Missouri Department of Transportation has come up with a new option for an interchange on Interstate 44 to serve an $85 million pet food plant that is under construction in Joplin’s Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.
The option was welcomed as a more acceptable alternative by the 100 or so people who attended a meeting conducted Wednesday night by MoDOT in the library at the temporary East Middle School in the business park.
A month ago, MoDOT told residents who live near the industrial park that it was considering two options. One option would construct a diamond interchange with a new two-lane bridge over the interstate at Jasper County Road 180, affecting about 25 property owners. About a dozen families could be bought out in connection with construction of the interchange.
That option came as a surprise to the families living along County Road 180 because they assumed that Jasper County Road 190 would be a better location for the interchange since that road is the main north-south road through the industrial park.
MoDOT also offered County Road 190, also known as Prigmore Avenue, as an option. It is one mile west of County Road 180. That plan would affect 15 property owners. A handful of families could be bought out in connection with the interchange project.
During the initial meeting with residents, MoDOT said the County Road 190 interchange might be too close to the Highway 249 interchange to satisfy federal highway guidelines for the distance between interchanges. The option would have constructed a three-lane bridge over the interstate. It also would have closed local access to Apple Road. East 20th Street becomes Apple Road when it crosses the interstate.
Dan Salisbury, assistant district engineer, told those attending the meeting Wednesday night that MoDOT engineers late last week drafted a third option that involves County Road 190.
Under this option, roundabouts would be constructed on the north side and south side of the interstate to serve both local vehicles and truck traffic to the industrial park. The design would permit construction of a two-lane bridge instead of a more costly three-lane bridge over the interstate, Salisbury said. The roundabout on the south side of the interstate would permit local use of Apple Road.
Salisbury said each of the three options is projected to cost between $9 million and $10 million for acquisition of right of way and construction.
After listening to comments from those attending the meeting, Salisbury said it “sounds like we are on the same page now” in terms of the new option.
Angela Street and her husband, Billy, live along County Road 180, which comes to a dead end at the interstate. About the new option, she said: “I am greatly relieved tonight. I was afraid we were going to have to move or even worse — that they would not buy us out completely and we would have to live there with an interchange in our front yard.”
Billy Street said MoDOT “completely flipped” its position on the interchanges Wednesday night compared with what was proposed at the first meeting with local residents.
“It was all about County Road 180 the last time,” he said. “That’s why we were so concerned.”
Lee Toler, who lives east of the industrial park, said the closing of Prigmore Avenue for the construction project “means that a lot of us will be driving a long way out of the way to get to work.”
In response to that, another resident said, “The inconvenience is better than losing our homes.”
Salisbury said the Prigmore Avenue bridge over the interstate likely will be replaced. That work would take several months in the summer of 2014, he said.
Some of the residents expressed concern about the design of the roundabouts and whether they would be large enough to accommodate the big trucks that will visit the industrial park. Salisbury said the roundabouts would be designed to handle big trucks.
Funding for the interchange was approved by MoDOT’s innovative finance committee because of the job-creation component related to the pet food plant operated by Blue Buffalo Co. The company, in order to get that commitment, promised to create 150 high-paying jobs when it announced its plans for the plant last month.
THE PET FOOD PLANT, which will produce 30 million pounds of products per month, will be visited by 85 trucks per day, company officials have said. The interchange is to be constructed by 2015, when the plant opens.