Area residents were given the opportunity at a public meeting on Aug. 8 to ask questions and visit with members of the Taney County Commission, Taney County Road and Bridge Department and Great Rivers Engineering regarding the future of the long discussed Taney County Expressway Project.
In the middle of last month, the Taney County Commission re-filed a grant application with the U.S. Department of Transportation, for the second year in a row, in hopes of being awarded a BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grant to assist with funding for the expressway project.
The proposed expressway would begin at Birch Street and Industrial Park Drive by Menards and travel east over Kohler Creek, cross over Maple Street, go over the train tracks by the Hollister Waste Water Plant and behind the Hollister Elementary School. The route would then turn northeast and connect onto BB Highway and the newly rehabilitated Coon Creek Road, before coming out onto Missouri 76 in Kirbyville.
Great Rivers Engineering Principal Engineer Spencer Jones said the purpose of this public meeting was to give the public the opportunity to come in, view the plan and view the information they feel supports the need for the project.
“One of the biggest focuses the county commission has had is to try to improve safety and reduce congestion. The big problem that exist right now is you have Highway 76, which is a major corridor between Kirbyville, Hollister and Branson,” said Jones. “Currently a lot of that truck traffic has to travel through Downtown Branson or through Downtown Hollister to make it into the eastern part of Taney County.
“So what this route would do is help move that truck traffic off 76 and onto expressway and then improve safety, reduce commute times and then get some of that truck traffic away from the school buses that travel along that same route. We see a lot of benefits for the community with that aspect of it.”
On June 8, commissioners unanimously agreed to pay 25 percent of the proposed $30 million expressway project, not to exceed $8 million. The agreed-upon grant funding match amount, as well as letters of support from area residents, businesses, schools and emergency personal, were all included in the application packet to the DOT.
While the county was not awarded the grant when they applied for it in 2018, the application was selected as one of the top finalists, and even made it to the desk of the Secretary of the DOT for review. Knowing how close they got to receiving the grant last year, is why the county decided to re-apply for the grant again this year, according to Jones.
“Now we’re just in a waiting game. The final decision should be announced sometime in December, so we’ll kind of be in a hold pattern until we hear more information on that,” said Jones. “There’s like five rounds that goes through as far as that review and we won’t know until they’ve made their final selections how far the project made it.”
According to statistics shared at the public meeting, in a 20-year period the expressway will eliminate an estimated eight vehicle fatalities, 31 serious injuries, 182 minor injuries, 475 cases of property damage and will save the traveling public up to $24.5 million dollars.
Other statistics stated that by eliminating three miles of driving everyday, the expressway will save commuters over 77,000 hours of drive time per year, over $1 million dollars annually and will offer a 25 percent shorter commute time.
Jones said the feedback that the county has received thus far has been very positive and supporting.
“One of the things that I think has been beneficial is that the county early on made the decision to start meeting with the individual property owners that would be directly affected,” said Jones. “I think those efforts have helped the public and helped those property owners feel more comfortable with the project and what goals can be accomplished with it. Our goal (with this meeting) is to give them that opportunity to give us their feedback, so we can make sure to take that into consideration as the project moves forward.”
The idea for this expressway has been around for more than two decades. In 1995 the results of a Taney/Stone County Transportation Study identified a road connection could be made from Missouri 76 across Maple Street in Hollister to U.S. 65. In 1999, the route was adopted as a future roadway connection as a part of the Taney County Master Plan, according to Jones.
When the grant application was submitted back in 2018, the expressway project included the recently completed renovations to Coon Creek Road. Taney County Road and Bridge Administrator Devin Huff said he believes that by already completing the Coon Creek portion of the project, it will help with their application to the DOT.
“Myself and the commission met with the federal highway two different times and got them familiar with it. So they’re very familiar with Coon Creek Road. What all we’ve done and what all we improved on it for safety,” said Huff.
Jones also shared that if the county receives the funding for the project, the expressway itself wont be the only beneficial aspect of the community.
“When you’re talking about building a $30 million project, that’s money that’s invested in wages, material, places for people to stay while they’re building the project, places for people to eat. So it really has an economic benefit to the community,” Jones said. “There’s some people that state that return in that investment for every dollar you spend you get $5 or $7 spent back in the community. So it could have a very positive impact on that.”
If the grant is awarded to the county, construction of the expressway would begin in 2021 and take an estimated two years to complete, according to Jones.
Additional information on the project ahead of the upcoming meeting can be found at taneycoexpress.com.