City staff continues monitoring traffic, parking downtown

A minivan prepares to turn right onto Broadway Street off of West Main Street on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Temporary road blocks were put into place preventing drivers from taking West Capitol Avenue.

With construction at the Capitol changing driving and parking patterns downtown, Jefferson City and state officials said traffic was "as good as can be expected" during the first week of renovations.

City Engineer David Bange said it appears drivers are using alternate routes due to the construction project, which shut down the South Capitol Drive and brought the two lanes on North Capitol Drive down to one.

City staff is monitoring the traffic signals in the surrounding area to determine if they are timed right or if tweaks need to be made. There are also more people making left-hand turns from East High Street on to Jefferson Street, Bange said, which is something staff plans to monitor.

Along with signs directing drivers to take alternate routes, staff may consider other signage, but Jefferson City Public Works Director Matt Morasch said these are preliminary discussions.

City officials are waiting for people to adjust to the changes before making any tweaks to signage or traffic signal times.

"We always like to let it kind of sink in for folks' schedules for the first couple of weeks," Morasch said. "It's going to be hectic the first couple of weeks and everyone's going to adjust. Then we can really see if we need to make any further changes, improve the signage, things like that."

City officials initially said they were concerned about traffic issues along Broadway Street, especially in the morning and afternoon when parents pick up and drop off students at St. Peter's Interparish School.

Morasch said traffic was a little busier than normal, but it was not backed up as much as city staff originally feared, crediting the signage.

"A lot of times what happens when the state periodically closes the circle drive for an event, there's not a lot of notice so you get traffic backing up all the way from Broadway around the corner down past St. Peter's," he said. "But I have not noticed a huge issue at this point, and even (on Wednesday) there was a little more traffic on Broadway since people were adjusting and there might have been an event at the Capitol, but it wasn't backed up onto Main Street."

Mark Veit, director of student affairs and athletics at St. Peter Interparish Catholic School, agreed traffic went smoothly the first full week of Capitol construction. There was more foot traffic around the school, he added, but this may have been due to visitors walking to the Capitol or those attending a funeral.

Communication has been key so far, he said. The state sends him notices for when there will be large groups visiting the Capitol, and he has been talking with teachers and parents regarding traffic increases.

Mike O'Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety, agreed advance communication has helped, adding Capitol Police has not had any major issues such as motor vehicle accidents and has not had to direct traffic.

Missouri's Office of Administration spokeswoman Ryan Burns said Friday that OA "has had no complaints regarding parking at this time."

She acknowledged that moving the bus loading/unloading area to the west side of the Capitol, in the area that had been used for drivers to go from the North Drive to Broadway Street, now means drivers will "continue west on Main Street and make a left turn at Missouri Boulevard, using the High Street on-ramp to continue (east) around the Capitol."

While Morasch is sure there is a higher demand for parking spaces since about 70 public parking spaces were eliminated around the Capitol, he has not heard about any issues so far regarding parking.

Jefferson City Operation Division Director Britt Smith said downtown parking does seem to be slightly busier than normal, but it's difficult to determine whether that's due to the construction or the number of visitors, adding this time of year tends to be the parking division's busiest time.

There have been a few new customers at the parking garage at the corner of East Capitol Avenue and Madison Street, Smith said, possibly from those displaced due to the lack of parking around the Capitol.

A wild card in the traffic and parking situation, though, are the large number of visitors the Capitol sees daily.

"Those are people who are not as familiar with where they want to go and they are always changing, so it's different groups of people as the legislative session moves on," Morasch said. "So, we're trying to be clear to those folks where their alternate routes are. People who work here every day, day-in and day-out, who use the parking garages and various places, they're going to adjust their routes to what's best for them and so it's kind of a bit of a moving target when you factor in all of the out-of-town folks that we expect."

Cathy Brown, head of the Design and Construction division, said during the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce Friday Coffee that she asked the General Assembly for an additional $15 million to cover the Capitol renovations costs.

Bob Watson and Philip Joens of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.