No easy answer to Columbia’s traffic dilemma - Republic-Times | News

No easy answer to Columbia’s traffic dilemma

By on March 7, 2018 at 2:57 pm

Chief Jerry Paul

Traffic along the Route 3 corridor has been a frequent topic of discussion since vehicles started traveling the stretch of roadway, with speed, terrain and traffic control all hotly debated.

The topic reared again last week in the aftermath of the crash in Columbia on Admiral Parkway (Route 3) at Veterans Parkway that claimed the life of Emily Webb, a mother of six from Columbia.

Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul spoke at Monday’s Columbia City Council meeting and took questions about traffic along the Columbia corridor of Route 3.

“As far as the traffic crash that occurred last Tuesday, that is something that is actively under investigation,” Paul said. “(Because) of that and because we haven’t presented anything to our state’s attorney, it’s something that I cannot comment directly on.”

IDOT estimates of traffic flow on Route 3 through Columbia range from 26,000 to almost 30,000 cars a day. And data Paul presented at the meeting gives a glimpse into what officers are up against. 

From October 2017 to March 5, 2018, there were 608 traffic stops resulting in 27 arrests, 195 citations, 546 written warnings, 82 verbal warnings, eight officer-initiated DUIs, and 20 citations for revoked, suspended or unlicensed drivers.

“Of the citations, 42 percent were for speeding,” he said. 

There were also 13 citations for disobeying a traffic control device.

In more longitudinal data, over the past 10 years, traffic crashes have increased by 16 citywide, from 250 in 2008 to 266 in 2017.

The Facebook group “Citizens Demanding Change on Illinois Route 3, Columbia, Illinois” has amassed nearly 4,000 members over the years. With some members from that group in attendance, Paul acknowledged he has read many of the concerns expressed on the page, and held discussions with several members who were in attendance at the meeting.

“I’m thinking of one comment I saw, and it was, ‘Hey, why are the officers stopping speeders and they’re not addressing people at the stoplights?’” he said.

The group has called for reduced speed limits and delayed stoplights along Route 3 in Columbia.

Paul explained the stoplight intersections from North Main Street to South Main Street in Columbia are synchronized.

“If you’re coming off of I-255, and you’re traveling the speed limit … you should make every green light on your way through  Columbia to Waterloo — if you obey the speed limit,” Paul said.

The problems arise, he said, when drivers exceed the speed limit, drive aggressively and then come up on the intersections faster than how they were engineered by IDOT to be approached.

“So it’s important to address the speeders,” he said. “The speeders are actually easier for the marked cars to sit and clock and stop. And by addressing the speed, they’re helping at the lighted intersections also.”

One challenge, he added, is that when marked police cars are at intersections, cars are far less likely to try to beat the light.

Paul also explained that Route 3 and all the streets that intersect Route 3 at stoplights have sensors in them that alert the traffic lights when traffic flow is high. The lights then self-adjust to keep the vehicles moving. Thus, cycles during rush hours will be long to keep traffic flowing and will shorten when traffic on intersecting streets gets heavy.

Addressing traffic on the Route 3 corridor has been a priority for every officer since the bypass was installed, he emphasized.

Paul added he has been in frequent communication with IDOT since last week’s crash, and the department has been responsive.

“Once the crash investigation is completed, we will work with the police, municipality and county to determine what steps can be implemented to improve safety along the entire IL 3 corridor in Monroe County,” IDOT said in a statement released last week.

Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson echoed the sentiment in a statement read at the meeting in his absence.

“We are all shocked and saddened about the recent tragedy that took the life of Emily Webb and hospitalized her children. Our continued prayers are with the Webb family in their recovery, both physically and emotionally,” he said. “Once the official report is completed by the Illinois State Police, the city will engage in discussions with the Illinois Department of Transportation to determine if any steps can be taken to enhance safety along the Route 3 corridor.”

Andrea F.D. Saathoff

Andrea is a graduate of Gibault High School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the University of Missouri Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville College of Education. She lives in Columbia with her husband and their twin toddler sons. When she isn't cheering on St. Louis Cardinals baseball or riding the emotional roller coaster of Mizzou Tigers football, she enjoys attending and participating in the many family events the county has to offer. email: andrea@republictimes.net