Officials from the city of Sikeston, Scott County, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Department of Transportation gathered at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center near the intersection Tuesday to commemorate the start of work on the project.
"These are very important safety improvements for this area," said Cheryl Ball, interim district engineer for MoDOT. "It will benefit the whole community, we believe."
The $750,976 contract was awarded to Gaines Construction of Wentzville in April. Ball said the project includes widening all lanes and putting in a traffic signal.
"During construction we want to warn you: traffic is going to be affected," she said. Officials hope to have the widening part finished before the Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo scheduled for Aug. 10-13 "to make the impact as minimal as possible."
Ball said this is just one of over 1,000 work zones in this part of the state and fits in well with MoDOT''s "Safer, smoother, sooner" slogan.
"We want to ask people for your patience," she said, as once the projects are finished MoDOT "will be out of the way for several years."
MoDOT has worked with the city of Sikeston, which is contributing $271,000 toward the project, to develop a plan to increase safety at the intersection.
"This is my first groundbreaking for a stoplight," said Mayor Mike Marshall.
He related that while doing research at the library recently, he ran across a news article from January 1938 on a groundbreaking for the traffic signal at Malone and New Madrid Street, "and it was a big deal for them, too."
Marshall said the City Council has pushed for a stoplight at Route 61/HH/ZZ for a long time recalling how Councilman Jerry Pullen asked about it at the end of every Council meeting for years.
"This project here is just an example of the progress that''s going on here on the north side of town," Marshall said, noting the industrial park and MoDOT''s new district office. "A lot of good things are happening in Sikeston."
Marshall said he is happy to see the cooperation between the city, Scott County and MoDOT. "We''re very happy to be participating in this," he said.
"These are the kind of improvements we like to see in the county and the city of Sikeston," said Scott County Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel. "They''re going to prevent some mighty serious accidents - they might even save a life or two."
Lt. Jim McNeill of the Missouri State Highway Patrol commended Sikeston, Scott County and MoDOT for working together "and addressing a very much-
needed improvement in our community."
He said Route 61 is a major north-south highway and that traffic along the route will only be increasing as improvements continue in the area over the coming years.
McNeill said in the last two and a half years, there have been 26 accidents at the intersection and 27 injuries. Fortunately there haven''t been any fatalities, he said.
The potential for accidents will remain after the signal is up as some motorists may try to beat the light, according to McNeill, so the Highway Patrol will watch the intersection closely and write tickets. "We''ll try to make people who violate the law pay the price," he said.
McNeill also asked motorists to remember to slow down in work zones. "If we have one accident, one injury, one death, that''s too many," he said. Noting that speeding in a work zone carries an additional $250 fine, he advised "let''s slow down, be courteous in the work zones."