Local officials optimistic about Highway 54 project

By Dennis Sharkey, Editor
Posted 5/24/23

After nearly two decades of meeting and lobbying local officials feel like progress is being made towards beginning construction on one of the region’s most traveled roadways.

The Highway …

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Local officials optimistic about Highway 54 project


After nearly two decades of meeting and lobbying local officials feel like progress is being made towards beginning construction on one of the region’s most traveled roadways.

The Highway 54 Coalition has been meeting monthly for several years intending to make improvements to the stretch of Highway 54 that runs from Mexico to Hannibal.

The group feels like progress is being made after a meeting with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) last month. At the meeting, MoDOT showed the group a draft copy of a study and the feasibility of converting Highway 54 into what’s called a four-lane shared highway. The concept would have passing lanes about every two miles that would alternate between the two different directions of traffic.

“I think this is one of the most significant things to happen,” Audrain Presiding Commissioner Alan Winders told a group of county municipal leaders at a meeting in Farber last week.

Winders and Associate Commissioner Leslie Meyer met with the group to talk about MoDOT’s State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) and how it works. MoDOT uses the STIP to plan improvement projects and for a go-to list when additional funds become available for projects.

That’s exactly what happened with the Highway 54 study; money became available and MoDOT was able to pull the study into the STIP. The study began last August.

The Highway 54 Coalition met at the Pike County Courthouse in Bowling Green on Thursday, May 18. It was the first time since meeting with MoDOT the group had a chance to discuss the study. Although exact numbers were a little fuzzy, those at the meeting said the total project would cost around $90 million. However, the study broke the entire project into five sections that could be managed more easily when planning budgets and fixing costs. Winders said he would be skeptical about any of the projects being completed in the past but gave credit to MoDOT.

“It was hard to be excited about it because you knew MoDOT didn’t have a lot of money to work with but some things have come off the list,” Winders said about the STIP.

Winders said since the announcement the study was taking place he was a little worried about what the study might reveal.

“I was nervous because we hadn’t heard anything,” Winders said. “I thought they did a really nice job being reasonable with their approach.”

Pike County Eastern Commissioner Tom Wallace said he liked how the project was broken down into sections.

“It’s the first real progress that I’ve seen,” Wallace said.

Wallace said it would be wise to get a push going to get the project started. He said it would be harder not to complete the project once it starts. He also said they want to avoid competing with a potential Missouri Highway 19 project.

“If we get something started there’s a better push to finish the project instead of just leaving a section,” Wallace said.

Pike County Western Commissioner Brock Bailey said he travels Highway 54 every day and said the project is needed now. He said impatient drivers combined with slow and excessive traffic have made it much less safe.

“It gives you a window to safely get around somebody,” Bailey said about the project. “It is by far more dangerous than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 or 40 years ago.”

Winders said he anticipated MoDOT would have a public forum and comment period on the project.

“I don’t think they have any intention of keeping it secret but I don’t know if they want us announcing it,” Winders said.

Bailey said he would like to see some public forums and more information out to the public so they can build momentum for the project.

“I don’t know but whatever it is we don’t want to drop the ball now,” Bailey said.

The Ledger was able to reach a MoDOT spokesperson on Monday who said the department plans on releasing the study later this summer after the draft has been finalized. The spokesperson said MoDOT will conduct public meetings after the study is released.

Winders said no one has told him but he thinks the group must help MoDOT promote the project and approach the issue as a partnership. Winders said the group also needs to get in front of the Missouri Highway Commission soon.

“We’re going to have to look for opportunities but at a minimum, we’re going to have to attend a Highway Commission meeting after this study is out and thank them,” Winders said. 

The group plans on using its website abetter54.com to link the study and promote the project.