The opening of the last section of a new four-lane highway that will carry traffic between St. Charles and St. Louis counties promoted one prominent elected official to evoke a bit of local history.
“This is a ribbon cutting to open a new project but it’s the closing of the last chapter of the history of the Booneslick Trail in St. Charles County,” said County Executive Steve Ehlmann on Oct. 31. “This is where Daniel Boone and before him Native Americans crossed this area to go west.”
Ehlmann made the comments at the final ribbon cutting ceremony for the last leg of work on Hwy. 364, also known as the Page Avenue extension, between Hwy. K and Mid Rivers Mall Drive. A section of the new four-lane divided highway between Interstate 364 and Hwy. K was opened Oct. 5. Combined, those last two legs of the $118.2 million project include about 9 miles of four-lane divided highway from Mid Rivers Mall Drive to I-64 and represent the third phase of an overall extension that includes the Page Avenue Bridge across the Missouri River.
The completion of the highway also closed another more recent chapter of St. Charles history – as the cooperatively built roadway has been 45 years in the making.
Ehlmann, the author of a book on the history of the Civil War in St. Charles County, noted that Hwy. 364 in essence followed the route of the Booneslick Trail, a major trail west for pioneers in the 19th Century. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) recognized that the area was a natural highway years ago, he said.
But the new road has other, more modern implications he told a group of dignitaries that included former County Executive Joe Ortwerth, former State Sen. Fred Dyer, former St. Charles mayor and MoDOT commissioner Grace Nichols along with MoDOT officials and local mayors. Braving 40-degree temperatures and a brisk breeze, the dignitaries stood on what would soon be heavily traveled pavement on Hwy. 364, just east of the Hwy. K interchange.
“By opening this, what were going to achieve here, is that everybody living in the Page Corridor is going to be within a 45-minute commute of 75 percent of the jobs in the St. Louis region,” Ehlmann said.
The ribbon-cutting also offered another chance for local and MoDOT officials to discuss 45 years of hard work in making the project a reality.
The final phase of the extension was built because MoDOT and St. Charles County government and municipalities split the cost – the county and its municipalities came up with $57 million and MoDOT provided $61.2 million.
St. Charles County’s half-cent transportation sales tax provided $29.1 million for the project. O’Fallon contributed $2.25 million to help with additional right-of-way costs, and Dardenne Prairie added $600,000 for improvements at Hanley Road.
The project would have not been possible without that partnership, said Gregory J. Horn, MoDOT district engineer for the St. Louis area.
MoDOT officials also said it may be difficult to duplicate that success in the future because of a lack of federal, state and local funding for major road projects.
“Those who are users of this particular highway should feel fortunate that this got built when it did,” said Kenneth Suelthaus, a Missouri Highway and Transportation commissioner.
St. Charles County officials lauded the cooperation among themselves in agreeing to pool road improvement funds for the project.
“This is a rare moment what you’re seeing today with all the cities here along with the county government cooperating,” said St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano. “This is highly unusual for all the governments to work together for the benefit of the people. I have to say that no other county has produced such a working relationship.”
MoDOT officials expect the new route will reduce traffic congestion on the I-70 and I-64 bridges across the Missouri River.
The driving lanes for Hwy. 364 from Hwy. K to Mid Rivers Mall Drive were open for traffic on Nov. 2. Traffic was restricted to one lane on both east and west bound lanes of Hwy. 364 at Mid Rivers Mall Drive and Hwy. 94. Ramps at Hwy. 364 and Hwy. 94 are expected to be open this fall.
Meanwhile, local officials also expect the new highway extension to prompt more economic development.
O’Fallon officials said there has been interest in land along the highway corridor, particular to the south.
Patrick Sullivan, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri, also said the new route may open up new opportunities in the area for residential growth.