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MoDOT plans to forge ahead with medians on Sunshine Street 

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With input from business owners, the Missouri Department of Transportation has retooled its plans for safety improvements on East Sunshine Street, but raised medians are still in the works. 

MoDOT officials gave a presentation to Springfield City Council at a luncheon meeting yesterday and revealed that they had followed up their safety study of the corridor with an economic one – a first for the agency, according to Shawn Leight of CBB Transportation Engineers and Planners, which conducted the study. The revised plan eliminates a few of the raised medians previously proposed along the business corridor, but it maintains many of them. These medians would restrict traffic from making left turns into business entrances from the roadway. 

Some of the medians originally proposed are eliminated in the new plan, which proposes the construction of three U-turn lanes and one three-quarter access point, restricting only one left turn into a business. 

The plan also includes some right-in, right-out access, the addition of some pedestrian signals and eastbound right turn lanes at South Ingram Mill Road and Enterprise Avenue. Signal improvements and new sidewalks round out the plan. 

On April 3, council passed a resolution asking MoDOT to suspend plans to add medians along the 4.3-mile East Sunshine corridor that runs from Glenstone Avenue to Farm Road 199, east of U.S. Highway 65. At the time, councilmembers and business owners objected to the plan, saying it would curtail access to businesses. 

MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna was at the April meeting and said the agency’s engineers aimed to solve problems, though the solutions do not always match community desires. 

He added that the medians made up only about 1% of the project’s $11 million price tag, but they were important to the plan, making up 30%-35% of the safety benefit by reducing vehicle accidents. 

“The singular bang for the buck in safety dollars comes from that median access,” he said. 

At the April meeting, McKenna volunteered to wait at least a year to begin the project as the agency gathered more data and talked to business leaders. 

Kristi Bachman, MoDOT project manager, led yesterday’s presentation, noting that the route is a heavily developed corridor with a high number of access points, limited pedestrian facilities and heavy congestion, and projections call for growth in volume by 2041. 

“A typical five-lane highway, which is what Sunshine Street is, can accommodate 28,000 vehicles per day,” she said. “Sunshine Street is currently seeing up to 32,000 vehicles per day, so we’ve already exceeded the footprint of the five-lane highway. We’re anticipating that growth to be upwards of 36,500.” 

MoDOT Traffic Studies Specialist Eric Turner said the Springfield Police Department responded to 728 total crashes that were reported on the route in the period of 2016-20. Five of them resulted in fatalities and 13 resulted in disabling injuries, with 305 resulting in minor injuries and 405 in property damage only. An additional 297 property damage crashes were reported to the SPD, bringing the total to 1,025 for the period. 

Turner said the Sunshine Street crash rate more than doubles the statewide crash rate for five-lane urban roadways. The highest crash rates on the corridor are just west of the Highway 65 interchange and at the entrance to Walmart Neighborhood Market and Sam’s Club, east of U.S. 65. 

He said medians reduce crash rates by 37% and injury rates by 48%. 

Bachman said a raised median has been removed from the plan on the segment from Lone Pine Avenue to the railroad crossing, and the revision also examined some proposed closures of business entrances. 

“We had recommended closing 11 entrances in the project limits, and through the course of these meetings learned that at least two of them are detrimental to the business itself, whether it’s a delivery issue that can’t be made without the entrance, so we proceeded to keep these two entrances in place,” she said. 

The MoDOT presentation included data from an April 5 Springfield Business Journal informal reader survey asking if the agency should install medians on East Sunshine Street. The results of that unscientific sampling with 726 votes were in favor of the measure by a 56%-44% margin.  

Leight presented the economic impact study results to council. 

“This is a pretty unique study,” he said, adding he doesn’t know of any precedents where MoDOT has done this kind of economic assessment at the request of a governing body. 

Leight said safety measures are necessary on the corridor, and there will be negative economic impacts. However, most can be readily addressed by businesses and property owners, he said, though a few may require substantial adjustments. 

He said the corridor would recover, likely better than ever, through safety improvements and wise adjustments by businesses and property owners. He cited a study from the Federal Highway Administration that surveyed property owners following access management projects in several states. Most saw steady or increased sales revenue after project completion. Specifically, 53% had the same reported sales, 33% had increased sales, 9% were uncertain and 5% had decreased sales. 

One audience member in the packed room for the luncheon meeting was Todd Wilson, chief operating officer of Rapid Robert’s. 

Wilson said in the past, the city placed a three-quarter access point, restricting left turns by customers, in front of his business. 

“We saw around a 14% decline in our gallons sold,” he said. “It was overnight – we lost it, and it never came back, and so it’s concerning whenever you see a more permanent, larger median. It’s going to cut off 50% of my traffic.” 

He noted Sunshine Street is a retail corridor that can’t be treated like a restricted-access highway. 

“Are we just trying to get people through this as quickly as possible or is this a retail portal?” he said. 

He added that there are a lot of improvements that can be made to East Sunshine Street for both drivers and pedestrians that don’t involve cutting off access to businesses. 

MoDOT plans to hold another public meeting outlining changes to the plan this winter, and the earliest the two-year construction project could begin is 2025, Bachman said.

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jeffmunzinger

Traffic on the easternmost part of Sunshine seems to be increasing continuously. And with new development increasing east from U.S. 65, it will continue. As much as possible, I use Bennett Street an alternative. As reported in this story, there are crashes all the time in front of Wal-Mart and Sam's. If ever there was a case for medians, it is there.

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