Community leaders meet with transportation officials to discuss safety improvements
By Lisa Schlichtman
"You get things done working together" was how Barry County Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren summed up Monday's meeting concerning safety improvements along Highway Y in Cassville.
The meeting was hosted by Warren and fellow commissioners Eddie Davison and Frank Washburn. Others represented at the meeting were: Cassville Mayor Tracy Holle; Cassville R-IV Superintendent Jim Orrell; Cassville School Board President John Sullivan; Cassville City Administrator Mike Hayslip; Cassville City Clerk Kelly Paul; Dan Salisbury, assistant District 7 engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT); and Dan Watts, a representative with the Southwest Missouri Council of Governments (SMCOG).
Although the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Barry County's transportation needs, the group quickly turned the discussion to safety issues that exist along Highway Y from Main Street to Cassville High School. This stretch of roadway is where a Cassville High School freshman was struck by a car on Sept. 10 and later died from injuries he suffered in the accident.
Salisbury asked the group to list alternatives for improving safety along the corridor, which is extremely narrow and carries a high volume of traffic before and after school.
Orrell spoke first and said he would like to see flashing lights, a reduced speed limit and crosswalks added as a short-term solution. He said he favored widening the quarter-mile stretch of highway and constructing sidewalks along the route in the long term.
Salisbury said adding flashers could be accomplished quickly if another entity besides MoDOT paid for the equipment and installation, which would cost about $5,000 per flasher. Once the flashers were in place, MoDOT could lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour.
Salisbury said he would not be inclined to widen the highway.
"One of the problems with widening the highway is people will actually drive faster on a wider road," said Salisbury. "Our studies show that people are already doing 40 miles per hour on Y south of the high school. Widening the highway would also have more impact on the houses along the route."
Constructing sidewalks along the route was another option Salisbury said could be accomplished through a cooperative community effort.
Salisbury said MoDOT would provide the engineering study for the project if the community could obtain funding for construction of sidewalks along the route. The city will also be in charge of obtaining right-of-way along the highway. Mayor Holle said she hopes nearby landowners will be willing to donate easements to keep project costs down.
"In communities where people want to solve a problem, I've found the problem can be solved," said Salisbury. "To get something done quickly, we'll need resources from the community."
Salisbury said he would return to his office in Joplin and begin the process to get a design study started on the project. He cautioned that it would take a couple of months to get the study initiated, but the school and city could get the flashers installed in the meantime.
MoDOT will also be investigating the possibility of making the intersection at Partridge Drive and Highway Y a three-way stop. This change could only take place if the site met state protocol.
At the start of Monday's meeting, Watts reported that SMCOG had assigned Highway Y safety improvements a fifth place ranking among regional projects.
"Last year, we got upwards of 20 requests for changes along Highway Y," said Watts.
According to Watts, none of the first through fifth ranked projects had been funded. He explained SMCOG provided MoDOT with the rankings as a tool to help identify transportation needs in the region's various counties.
When asked what criteria MoDOT follows in funding projects, Salisbury said one of the basic strategies the department follows is to focus on major routes.
"We don't have the money to focus on every need," explained Salisbury. "There are 5,400 miles of major routes in the state that carry 76 percent of all traffic. We all drive on the major routes so it makes sense to fund improvements from that standpoint."