Public input exceeded expectations Thursday, said Ben Ross, Engineering Surveys and Service vice president of engineering as the city works toward plans to expand Forum Boulevard to four lanes between Woodrail Avenue and Chapel Hill Road.
City staff and ESS staff were expecting between 30 to 50 guests at Forum Christian Church. A fairly steady stream of residents visited the meeting posing questions and providing written feedback. The public meeting was just one step in what ultimately will be a four-year process.
Columbia City Council in October 2022 authorized staff to move forward with a traffic study in November 2022. Fast forward to 2023 and you get Thursday’s public meeting. It will be another year before ESS comes to the city council for a public hearing for project approval and acquiring rights-of-way. A final design and bid process will happen in late 2025, with construction possibly starting in 2026.
Among the many nearby residents with questions and concerns was Austyn Belle Isle, who regularly uses Forum Boulevard since she lives just off this corridor and its connections to Stadium Boulevard, Nifong Boulevard and Old Plank Road and points in-between.
The proposed project is more than just a street widening. It also will add sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as replacing the bridge over Hinkson Creek. Intersection improvements also are proposed at Chapel Hill Road to allow for increased through-put of left-hand turns.
Belle Isle’s property abuts Forum, she said, and so she is concerned not only about increased vehicle noise from roadway encroachment toward her property line, but also potential easier access to her property by pedestrians as a matter of family safety and security.
“I have concerns about the risk-benefit ratio of things. I’m having a hard time truly understanding how the community benefits in a way that will exceed some of the more negative impacts on the people that live here in this area,” she said.
The immediate area to Forum also is as residentially developed as it possibly can be, Belle Isle added, so she didn’t see how traffic could increase along Forum because of this.
“As far as using this section, it’s not really used as a throughway as it ends at Old Plank and begins at Stadium. If someone is trying to use this part of Forum to get to somewhere else other than between point A and point B of this project, they’re going to be using some of our east-west running connectors to do that,” she said.
Belle Isle does like the roundabout proposals at Woodrail Avenue and at Katy Lane and Colony Drive to keep traffic flowing and removing left-hand turns. St. Louis-based EFK Moen LLC did a traffic study with some results made into a video.
Ross addressed some of the neighborhood concerns in a separate interview Thursday night.
When looking at traffic impacts over the next 20 years, ESS and EFK Moen was not just looking at residential areas along Forum, but areas farther southwest, such as open land for development along Sinclair Street and schools along Sinclair, he said.
“There are 17,000 people a day who drive Forum. We are trying to design out for 20 years in the future where we think it will be about 30,000 cars per day,” he said, adding he sees people going from Sinclair to Nifong and up Forum to its shopping area.
Trip estimates going from John Warner Middle School on Sinclair Street to Hy-vee Grocery on Nifong or Schnuck’s Grocery on Forum are nearly identical. Both are estimated to take 10 minutes, though the journey to Scnuck’s is 0.7-mile longer than the one to Hy-vee.
“There is going to be more development and that is why they’re building more schools and fire stations,” Ross said. “(Forum) is an arterial road. It gets quite a bit of through traffic. It’s not really made for access off of your property. It’s made for moving cars north and south. We’re just filling the four-lane gap.”
The project scope does not include privacy or security fencing for direct forum neighbors. That would be on the property owners to build and there still are land buffers from Forum to property lines, Ross said.
Forum also is not efficiently used by motorists because of the two-lane section from Woodrail to Chapel Hill, he added. Since drivers know about the narrowing, they stick to the lane they know isn’t going away, so they don’t have to merge, he said.
“When the four lanes are built, they’ll use both lanes equally. That will get more cars through there in a shorter time period,” he said.
From 2022:Surveying, aerial photography of Forum Boulevard expected in coming weeks for widening project
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.