Residents, business owners concerned about proposed J-turns on Highway 54 touted as safety improvements

Proposed changes to Highway 54 between Osage Beach and Camdenton drew a full house to a public meeting Tuesday afternoon at Osage Beach City Hall.
The changes include closing some intersections between Rt. KK in Osage Beach and Cecil Street in Camdenton, building J-turns in some locations and installing a cable safety barrier between the east and westbound lanes of Highway 54. Cecil Street is the main entrance to the Walmart Super Center.
Intersections proposed to be closed are Route A, Cape Wood, Spring Valley, Runabout Road and Key Largo.
Estimated cost is $2.3 million.
MoDOT officials were stationed at several locations around city hall to answer questions. Detailed aerial maps showing which intersections would be closed and how J-turns would be used to control traffic flow were laid out on tables for viewing.
According to MoDOT, closing the intersections and creating the J-turns will help prevent crossover accidents and improve safety at several intersections. The J-turns would help eliminate right-angle crashes and help reduce injury and fatal accidents by more than 50 percent, according to MoDOT.
In addition, median guard cable to be installed in the median will prevent crossover accidents, the MoDOT handout said.
Most of the construction would with lane closures during night time hours. During off-peak traffic times, contractors would be allowed to perform daytime work with lane closures. Work would start this fall with completion in the summer of 2019.
A MoDOT news release provided as part of an information packet at the meeting referred to the proposed changes as safety improvements, but not everyone attending sees the proposals that way.
"It's a waste of money," Steve Terviel, owner of Steve Terviel Lawn Services, said. "It's going to create more problems than it solves."
Terviel's business is adjacent to Spring Valley Road, one of five intersections that will be closed, with traffic re-directed to J-turns.
Chad Kautz, owner of Mexicali Blues, said closing the Runabout Road intersection will make it "very inconvenient" for his customers. Currently, customers wanting to take Highway 54 east toward Osage Beach use the Runabout Road intersection a few hundred feet west of his business. If the MoDOT proposal is enacted, his customers will take Highway 54 west to Y Road about a mile from his business before taking Highway 54 east back toward Osage Beach.
Robin Darringer, a resident of A Road, doesn't care for the proposals either.
Currently, to go to Camdenton where she works, she crosses the eastbound Highway 54 lanes and turns left onto Highway 54 west. If the A Road intersection closes, she and other residents served by A Road will turn east several hundred feet on Highway 54 past Crown Dental to a J-turn that will take them back past A Road toward Camdenton.
"No, I don't like it," she said.
She fears the proposal will create a dangerous situation with school buses and heavy traffic at the J-turn.
Bob Austin, owner of the Sun Forest, LLC, complex where Crown Dental Center is located, says his business could be the most impacted of any along the nearly nine miles of Highway 54 included in the proposed construction area.
"I'll be impacted more than any other business," he said. "I have 100 cars a day going in and out."
Currently, Crown Dental customers exit the parking lot at Lk. Rd. 54-69A and either turn left or right at the intersection. If that intersection is closed, customers who want to turn west toward Camdenton will have to drive several hundred feet east on eastbound Highway 54 and use a J-turn onto westbound Highway 54. Worse yet, Austin says, is that westbound customers will have to travel several hundred feet past the current entrance, past A Road to a J-turn and then turn back east on Highway 54.
Several others attending the open meeting said they had no opinion, but were trying to understand the proposals.
From a public safety perspective, Osage Beach Fire Chief Jeff Dorhauer thinks the proposals are workable.
"I have looked through this and while not in complete depth I think the proposal is sound and in the best interest of the public," he said. "While I agree this will add response time to accidents in the eastbound direction, these changes will eliminate 61 percent of the accidents in that stretch of highway. The most serious of these accidents, from what I can recall, have been those involving 'crossover' traffic. If we can eliminate the most dangerous situations while reducing the number of accidents significantly I think the trade-off for response time is worthwhile."
He said the OBFPD may be able to offset some of the response time increases in certain areas closer to Camdenton by using automatic aid with the Mid County Fire Department. The OBFPD will calculate response mileage from its Station 2 just off Rt. KK and Mid County's Headquarter Station in Camdenton and on those accidents where Mid County is closer the OBFPD will work with Mid County Chief Scott Frandsen.

Cross-median crashes
According to a Highway 54 road safety audit released in November 2016, 69 cross-median crashes have occurred on Route 54 between Mexico and Camdenton in the past five years, with three crashes resulting in four fatalities. The top three contributing factors to these cross-median crashes were driving too fast for conditions, physical impairment and distracted/inattentive driving.
Conducted by a multi-agency task force, the audit examined wrong-way, curve and cross-median crash data for the five-year period covering Jan. 1, 2011, to July 19, 2016. The safety audit members also visually observed crash locations on Route 54.
While past studies and statistics have not shown the Route 54 corridor in mid-Missouri to warrant guard cable, increasing traffic volumes, seasonal spikes in traffic volumes and the number of cross-median crashes along the corridor during the RSA study period are seen as reasons to proactively install guard cable to further enhance safety on Route 54.
MoDOT has identified three areas to install guard cable along the 100 miles of Route 54 between Camdenton and Mexico: Jefferson City to Kingdom City; Osage Beach to Camdenton; and Jefferson City to Osage Beach.
For more information, go to www.modot.org/central.