Airport Interchange Project Starts Amidst Budget Concerns

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COLUMBIA - Officials from across Boone County gathered Monday morning to break ground on a new diamond interchange at U.S. 63 and Route H. The $9.8 million project will improve traffic flow and safety, officials said. Officials also said the new interchange is vital  to economic development for the area, as it will allow larger trucks to travel the area more safely.

The project also includes construction of new southbound lanes along U.S. 63 (from Route 163 to Route H), with the current southbound lanes becoming an outer road system.

Dave Nichols, chief engineer of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the interchange project is starting at the right time because he sees no additional federal funding in the near future. He predicts fewer MoDOT projects in the future, as federal funding for MoDOT is expected be cut in half.

MoDOT Transportation Commission Chair Grace Nichols said MoDOT has restructured budgets to free up $112 million a year for future use. She said Missouri will miss an additional $20-150 million in federal funding because of the federal legislature's failure to pass the Highway Reauthorization Bill.

"The future of MoDOT is tenuous at best," Grace Nichols said.

Nearby residents raised other concerns about the project. Elaine McDow said she fears the new outer road system will push traffic problems closer to her home. She also said the project will be invasive, as noise, lights, and even debris could end up affecting her daily routine.

However, she sees the project as an opportunity to cash in as well. She owns 72 acres of land, which she said she might be willing to sell to a developer.