CARTHAGE, Mo. — Bicyclists and business owners were out in force Thursday to raise questions and concerns about a project for two bridges planned for Carthage.
Officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation conducted a forum to gather public input on plans to replace two bridges on Highway 96 in the northeast part of the city. The projects will replace deteriorating bridges over the MNA/BNSF railroad and over the Spring River overflow.
More than 50 people attended the session held at Carthage City Hall.
A large number of bicyclists attended to urge efforts to make the route safer and more accommodating to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The two new bridges will allow for that, but they said that's not the case for another bridge constructed in 2014 between them over Spring River.
Brady Beckham, a Carthage councilman who organized the turnout of bicyclists, said he would like to see an addition to the existing bridge, or another route to serve bikes and pedestrians.
"It's so close to Kellogg Lake; we'd like them to explore what they can do to address that one bridge; we like the plans for the two," said Larry Chapin, another Carthage councilman.
Highway 96 will be closed between both bridges during construction, scheduled to start in spring and end in the fall of 2017. Business owners in central Carthage and near Kellogg Lake questioned the proposed detour routes, saying they would direct traffic away from Carthage. Several said the timing, during the summer, also will hurt them because the detour will occur when the tourist season is the heaviest on Route 66, which includes that part of Highway 96.
Traffic is to be detoured using Missouri Routes 96, 37, 571 and Jasper County Route E.
Deborah Harvey, one of the owners of the historic Boots Motel, was one of several who called for alternate plans to route traffic into Carthage.
"What they're proposing is just going to put people back on the interstate," she said. "We would like to see them keep the detours for truck traffic, but reroute car traffic on V Highway to north Garrison, into town."
Kevin Frazier, an owner of Best Budget Inn near Kellogg Lake, agreed.
"It was bad enough when they built the last bridge; this would kill us," he said.
Kara Hardesty, an owner of Mother Road Coffee on the square, said downtown business already is being impacted because parking is limited because of a courthouse construction project.
"This would be worse," she said.
Ron Hart, executive director of the Route 66 Association," said the detour route "would affect Carthage and all the cities in the area that normally get that traffic."
Concerns raised by the business owners will be considered, said Sean Matlock, MoDOT project manager.
He said issues raised by bicyclists also would be reviewed, but said a limited MoDOT budget would not allow additional construction to make the entire route more accommodating.
Beckham, an engineer, said he also was looking into the possibility of a bike and pedestrian bridge that could link sections of the original Old Route 66 (now Jiminy Road) where an earlier bridge was demolished. He said he had researched a state program that will give away unused bridges, and found a bridge containing sections of the proper length.
"The bridge abutments are still there," he said. "But, I don't know how we would get it here, or how much it would cost to do that," he said.
Patrick Tuttle, executive director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau, attended the meeting to support efforts to make the entire stretch of road safer for bicyclists. He said riders from across the U.S. and from Europe use the route. He also cited a letter sent to MoDOT from the Adventure Cycling Association and a study by the group that said bicyclists "make more stops, longer and spend more money," he said.
The project for the two bridges is estimated to cost a total $4.4 million.
MoDOT will accept public comments on the plans for two weeks, by mail to the agency's Southwest District office at 3025 E. Kearney, Springfield, MO 65801, or via a link on the website at www.modot.org/southwest.