WENZTVILLE, Mo. – A project that’s been in the works for decades received a shot in the arm Monday as Governor Mike Parson signed a $2.8 billion bill for the planned statewide expansion of Interstate 70.
That includes a part of the interstate in Wentzville that some call the deadliest.
Capacity, safety, and reliability are what MoDOT and its partners say sit at the forefront of the improvements they hope to make to the highway. While signs are pointing to serious advancements with the project that would redesign stretches of I-70, residents are just wondering why there wasn’t more urgency for the stretch of highway known as the S curve, which they say is one of the most dangerous parts of the road within the entire state.
“Just beyond 20, I was driving home from work from Lambert Airport, when I came to the railroad bridge S-turn behind McDonald’s, I saw a large flash,” said Joe Tebo, a 45-year resident. What he saw next would haunt him for years to come.
“There was a college girl sitting in the front seat, crushed beyond recognition,” Tebo said.
A tractor trailer had struck the young girl, and as Tebo watched the moments her life slipped away, all he could do was reassure her.
“You won’t die alone. But she did die, so it stuck with me for a long time,” Tebo said.
More than 64,000 commuters drive this stretch of I-70 every year. That number is expected to increase by more than 30,000 riders by 2030, which won’t help the crash totals. A staggering 640 crashes have happened over the past five years on the same stretch.
“A lot of deaths on that highway,” Wentzville Mayor Nick Guccione said.
It’s part of the reason why the Improve I-70 Program was launched.
“This section of Interstate 70 is one of the oldest in Missouri; it was one of the oldest interstates built,” Eric Kopinski, director of the Improve I-70 Program, said.
Built decades ago, I-70 has seen minor reconstruction throughout the years, but not enough to make it sustainable and safe for everyday drivers. Finally, thanks to the bill signed by Governor Parson, $2.8 billion will be used to pick this project off the ground.
Kopinski explained that means adding a third lane from Blue Springs in the Kansas City area to Wentzville in the St. Louis area.
“Having a good corridor that’s safe and efficient is a key driver for markets to move into the state or the area,” he said.
Which is why MoDOT held an open house at city hall in Wentzville, getting feedback from those who will deal with the infrastructure changes. They say work could start as soon as the summer of 2024, but that’s not definite, and it depends on the current studies they’re still working on as well as the feedback they receive from residents.
“It’s a big economic driver that connects all the other cities to that interstate,” Guccione said.
That S curve is situated between the railroad that crosses over I-70 near West Pearce Boulevard, and residents say it’s a death trap.
“We do have problems with that here in the S curve,” Guccione said. “It’s still a bottleneck it backs up. There’s a lot of truck traffic that goes through there.”
MoDOT will accept feedback statewide up until the end of September, at which point, Kopinski says infrastructure design will start.
“MoDOT’s studying very closely is how we’re going to construct this,” he said. “We’re looking into how to construct this. We’re pulling in some of our private sector engineers and contractors to come up with the best way to have the least impact on the traveling public.”
The director says there’s no set date on when construction will actually start, but when it does, it’s expected to take about five years to complete.
“Let’s do the thing that saves the most people,” Tebo said.