Friday, August 04, 2017

TOP STORY >> Traffic lines anger many commuters

By RICK KRON Leader staff writer

The recent traffic-flow change on Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville on Thursday morning is causing long lines, delays and poor decisions by drivers, as well as heavy traffic on Hwy. 161 South during rush hour.

It seems many drivers didn’t realize the long-closed Redmond Road exit was opened and the Main Street exit was closed.

About 77,000 vehicles come through Jacksonville daily on Hwy. 67/167. “With everyone trying to get off at the Gregory exit, it was backing up a half mile or more on the highway,” Fletcher said.

“Since construction began, I’ve told people the inconvenience is worth the long-term gains, but yesterday it was not about in-convenience, but public safety,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said Friday.

“Drivers were using Gregory Street exit to turn back down to Main, and traffic was backing up. Some started to cut across the median between the highway and the frontage road. Once one driver does something illegal like that, others follow,” the mayor said, adding that in one 60-minute period Thursday, city police pulled over 10 drivers for illegal actions in their efforts to get off the highway.

“We even had drivers using on ramps as off ramps,” the mayor exclaimed.

“There could have been some very serious accidents. Luckily, none were reported,” Fletcher said. “We will have our police officers monitor the traffic as much as possible and we’ve called State Police to help.”

The mayor called officials at the Transportation Department a number of times Thursday and the department sent out a crew Friday morning to observe the traffic flow. “It was determined that we needed to improve the signage letting drivers know that Redmond was opened and Main Street was closed,” explained Danny Straessle, spokesman for the state highway department.

“This is just day one or two of the traffic changes, and we have to retrain the drivers,” Straessle said.

The mayor said it would be best for drivers who normally use the Main Street exit to now use Redmond Road and then snake through city streets to their destination.

Straessle said the Main Street exit will be closed about a month and that the $41.9 million construction project still has about a year to go.

The James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, La., is working to replace the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses. The new overpasses will be wider, with three lanes of traffic north and south, along with a substantial shoulder at Main Street.

The company is also building new approaches and ramps for the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses as well as a new stretch of highway between them. The highway from Jacksonville to Hwy. 5 in Cabot should be completed next at a cost of $70 million. The widening will then continue from Main Street to Vandenberg Boulevard for $61 million.

A $20 million north interchange between Cabot and Austin is expected to improve traffic and economic development in the area. It should be completed in 2018.