Bike/Ped accommodations on Range Line Road in Columbia at issue

A report in the Columbia Daily Tribune made it appear as though a recent directive to re-design the road to cut costs had also eliminated bicycle and pedestrian accommodation:
The existing MoDOT design abided by the city's new street-pedestrian walkway requirements - the most demanding in the state - by putting in a minimum of five-foot sidewalks on one side of the road and eight-foot pedways on the other. A pedway is a wider sidewalk suitable for bicyclists and wheelchair users. The state is not required to abide by city road requirements.

"Our management has said we can't spend this amount of money on this length of highway," MoDOT District Engineer Roger Schwartze said yesterday.

"We haven't set any firm number, but we want to get it down less than" $29 million. "I don't know how much taking the sidewalks off will be," he said. . . .

Don Stamper, executive director of the Central Missouri Development Council, said builders warned the Columbia City Council about the fiscal effects of the street and walkway standards the city council passed last year.

Stamper estimated the original Range Line project grew from 80 to 140 feet wide by adding the pedestrian facilities. Early MoDOT estimates of the Range Line project cost were about $18 million. Stamper blamed the increases on the additional right of way acquisition and the need to move more utilities.

"This is a place that demonstrates where the new street standards and requirement for pedways and sidewalks have literally taken a project out of market," Stamper said.

Stamper said developers understand the need for a walking and biking network. Such a network should run in and out of neighborhoods instead of requiring that the entire length of a rebuilt Range Line be lined on both sides with walkways.

"I would really hope we don't get so rigid that we force these standards on every project," Stamper said. "Otherwise, we risk losing a $20 million project."

Trails and walkways advocate Mayor Darwin Hindman said negotiations between the city and the state need to begin to save the sidewalks.

"I think they should stick to the city standard," Hindman said yesterday.
MoBikeFed Board Member and Columbia resident Laura Vie wrote MoDOT to get their perspective. Here is what she discovered:
I wanted to report back on the post Brent made about the story on the MoDOT Big Bear Blvd project in Columbia. I read the article in the Columbia Daily Tribune, went to MoDOT's website, emailed a response about the project. The article made it sound like MoDOT would simply drop all bike/ped accomodations from the road widening project. That would have been a huge disservice to the local community which is economically challenged and has a high percentage of pedestrians who currently risk their lives to walk that stretch every day. It is simply too dangerous for that community without accomodations.

I got an email response a day after my email, then got a phone call today from Kenny Boss at MoDOT explaining the situation. As it turns out, the article was somewhat misleading. It isn't that the bike/ped accomodations will be eliminated from the planning. Simply that MoDOT doesn't have the funding to do the necessary rerouting of the roadway in order to create the space for bike/pedways. The businesses are built too close together in order to have space for both the 4 lane (which is absolutely necessary through that stretch) and appropriate sidewalks etc. So, MoDOT is currently in discussion with the city of Columbia and PedNet to develop pedways that run behind the businesses rather than along the roadway and build sidewalks to connect to the roadway and business frontages where appropriate. The pedways could also connect to the Big Bear trail system that runs E-W along the creek in that part of town and become part of a larger citywide trail system.

The idea is to have the city involve themselves in the planning and financial support of the project and come up with affordable and appropriate alternatives to sidewalks on the roadway where there is only 3 feet of greenspace available. That way the city ordinance that requires all new roadways to have bike/ped accomodations will be met and the community can support initiatives that are important to them. Apparently MoDOT is moving in the direction of having local communities involved in the planning of projects so that the interests of the local residents are met, and also asking the communities to provide some financial support for things they believe they need. In this case MoDOT is providing $80M for the Big Bear project and asking Columbia to provide $300,000. I personally think it is fair for people to financially support things that are important to them. Everyone wants a free ride, but if it really is important they should be willing to kick in support for it.

I was impressed that MoDOT went to such lengths to respond to my simple email. It seems like things are changing for the positive - at least from my limited perspective.