NEOSHO, Mo. — Jodean Willoughby, manager of White Oak Station, said she has seen plenty of accidents outside her convenience store near the intersection of Missouri Highway 86 and Hammer Road.

"I've been here four years and seen a couple of deaths," Willoughby said. "Absolutely, something needs to be done."

The issue is one the city has been wrestling with since Love’s Travel Stop and White Oak Station opened just east of the intersection of Interstate 49 and Missouri Highway 86, the first business arriving in 2015.

Along with jobs, the businesses brought traffic congestion and accidents — as many as a half-dozen a year according to an earlier Globe survey of crashes just east of the interstate in a mile or so stretch of Highway 86 that included the intersections with Hammer Road, Gateway Drive and Kodiak Road. Many of those were injury accidents.

Neosho city officials have said they are ready to go forward with something at Hammer Road — money has been set aside for improvements — but what exactly will be done remains to be decided.

During its meeting last week, the Neosho City Council was asked for direction about whether to pursue a roundabout or a lighted intersection. Council members said they wanted to bring some of the nearby businesses into the conversation.

Willoughby said that city officials contacted her, asking for feedback, and while she is worried about accidents, she also wants to ensure access to the store.

"We have regulars coming in here, as well as a lot of construction people in the mornings," Willoughby said. "If a solution puts a hindrance on them, we need to know."

While officials with Love's corporate headquarters did not respond to the Globe's request for comment, employees there have told the Globe in the past that traffic there has become a problem.

"We have had a lot of feedback from citizens about that area," said David Kennedy, interim city manager. "They want to see something done to eliminate serious accidents."

Kennedy is also the Neosho police chief.

Points of contact

The issue illustrates why there has been a proliferation of roundabouts in Southwest Missouri as communities and the Missouri Department of Transportation try to reduce accidents at busy intersections but ensure access.

Kennedy said a roundabout would cost about $1.6 million but have no continued maintenance costs.

A lighted intersection would cost less — about $1 million — but the city would assume the ongoing costs of powering the lights and maintaining all the necessary technology for them.

The city has committed $1 million to the project, according to documentation provided to council members, and a traffic study is underway by Allgeier Martin, a Joplin engineering firm.

Kennedy said one drawback to lighted intersections is that accidents can be more serious. The possibility of T-bone and head-on collisions is higher at a lighted intersection, whereas roundabouts tend to produce less serious sideswipe collisions.

According to MoDOT, signal intersections have 20 "conflict points, or spots where vehicles could collide," but roundabouts reduce that number to eight.

"Fewer conflict points, combined with slower speeds and calmer traffic, can translate into as much as 75 percent fewer crashes. Because roundabouts tend to have fewer severe crashes than signalized intersections, they have fewer crash-related injuries as well."

Kennedy said the city has entered into a cooperative agreement with MoDOT.

The cost-sharing will be a 50-50 split, said Dave Taylor, area engineer for MoDOT's Southwest District, but require certain standards.

"(Neosho) would have to go through our process, and go through improvements," Taylor said. "Then we'd be able to share costs."

Besides being safer, Taylor said, a roundabout has the ability to keep traffic moving, whereas signals tend to create backups and delays that lead to congestion.

Kennedy said he has a mixed opinion about what option he'd rather see.

"I get what a roundabout does, and it does have the potential to reduce serious types of accidents," he said, but added that sometimes they are "hard for people to navigate."

While Neosho would have control over the project, it would be expected to meet certain standards, Taylor said. And one of those standards might involve a median or other barrier in the center of Highway 86.

White Oak and Loves are right across the street from each other east of the exchange with I-49. A median on Highway 86 would prevent traffic from making a left turn out of Love's toward the highway.

The median would create the opposite problem for White Oak, Willoughby said — traffic exiting I-49 would not be able to directly turn into her parking lot.

"We're a small business," Willoughby said. "We're not like Love's. We don't have the trucks coming in buying diesel. We run off the sales inside. And if people can't come into our business because of a barrier, that's detrimental to our business."

Willoughby said she is meeting with the city later this week.

Whatever happens, a decision about the intersection will need to be made soon: According to a tentative schedule, two application deadlines loom in October and December of this year. The intersection improvements could be made by early 2022, according to city documentation.

Kennedy said the city also is working on plans that call for improving the intersection of near Gateway Drive and Highway 86, just to the east of Hammer Road.

Need help?

An instructional video on navigating roundabouts can be found at https://www.modot.org/roundabouts.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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