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story.lead_photo.caption Two trucks wait for traffic to cross U.S. 54 on Saturday near West Hammann Drive. The area of U.S. 54 south of Jefferson City has seen several serious and fatal accidents over the past year. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

A stretch of U.S. 54 south of Jefferson City has seen several serious and fatal accidents over the past year, figures from the Missouri Highway Patrol show.

Three fatal accidents have occurred over the past year on U.S. 54 in Cole and Miller counties, with nine people losing their lives. There also have been five accidents with six people having serious injuries on U.S. 54 in Cole County in the past year — three of which occurred this month.

Most recently, three people died when a Tennessee man struck the vehicle of a St. Louis area couple head-on when he was fleeing from police in a stolen vehicle Sept. 15. Just two days before, on Sept. 13, a 19-year-old woman from St. Louis was seriously injured when she was ejected from her vehicle after failing to negotiate a curve on eastbound U.S. 54 near Buffalo Road. The day before that, Sept. 12, a St. Charles woman was seriously injured on westbound U.S. 54 near Pleasant Hill Road when her motorcycle overturned.

And in Miller County, six accidents with seven people having serious injuries were reported on U.S. 54 over the past year.

With formal safety studies concluded for the U.S. 54 corridor south of Jefferson City, Missouri Department of Transportation officials said they are putting together schedules for several safety improvements to be made over the next four years.

MoDOT spokesman Adam Pulley said the department plans to award contracts this fall for pavement resurfacing and guardrail improvements from Stadium Boulevard in Jefferson City to the Miller County line.

MoDOT will also award a contract this fall for guard cable to be added over an 18-mile stretch from Stadium Boulevard to Route AA in Miller County.

All of this work will take place in 2020.

"In 2021 we will be awarding a contract for safety improvements to various intersections along 54 in Cole and Miller counties," Pulley said. "We are in the early stages of working with a consultant and met with the public at a meeting in Eldon in June to begin the process of identifying the locations that would benefit from these improvements. This work will likely begin in 2021 and be complete in 2022."

At the June meeting, the discussion was over the safety and operation of the U.S. 54 corridor between Route E and Missouri 242. The route includes 30 intersections where improvements are needed for safety and operation. Potential projects would begin at Route E in Brazito and end at Wood River in Osage Beach.

Fifty-five percent of those who took a MoDOT public safety trends survey in February said they felt unsafe making a left turn through the median to enter U.S. 54 from a side road.

Improvement options being considered include adding left-turn lanes or J-turns.

For nearly a decade now, J-turns have seen by highway officials as an alternative to traditional roadway intersections on a four-lane highway.

Instead of crossing lanes of traffic to get to the opposing lanes, drivers at a J-turn intersection turn right in the same direction of traffic, merge into the left lane, then make a left turn in the direction they intend to travel.

Although drivers will have to travel slightly farther to get where they want to go, MoDOT officials have said using J-turns can take the same amount or less time than trying to wait for a safe and appropriate gap to cross traffic.

Existing J-turns in Mid-Missouri include one at Route E in Cole County and two at Honey Creek Road, Heritage Highway and Peschang Parkway. One goes to Honey Creek on one side and on the other side there's a turn going to Heritage Highway.

Residents can inform MoDOT about their concerns regarding safety on U.S. 54 or any other state road by calling 1-888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636), Pulley said.

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