Safety costs of adding a left-turn lane, and how such a lane might alleviate traffic were among the topics discussed at the city council meeting on Tuesday Aug. 20.
Despite Bill 8806 passing through its first and second reading, the debate of a left-turn lane at the intersection of Edgar Road and Garden Avenue highlighted the topic of conversation. A third, and final, reading is scheduled to take place in the near future. Bill 8806 would allow Webster University to build a five story, 548-space parking garage extension.
Webster Groves council members Kathy Hart, Anne Tolan and Greg Mueller said they would like a left-turn lane to be added at the university’s expense if Webster University builds its parking garage extension. Webster University’s Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said adding a left-turn lane at the university’s expense raised questions about the fairness of the bill.
“If the city wishes to make improvements to public roads… It should be done with the city and public dollars,” Gunderson said.
Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Katie Maxwell said the city and university should look into a left-turn signal at the intersection before making a decision on a left-turn lane.
“As a resident and a student, I know fully that any residents’ tax dollars or any students’ tuition dollars shouldn’t be spent on restructuring Edgar Road without clear evidence,” Maxwell said.
Improvements to add a left-turn lane on southbound Edgar Road would require widening Edgar Road six feet westward. The expansion would also require major construction to current sidewalks. The Emerson Library roundabout and the retaining walls in front of the University Center are also required improvements to make the left-turn lane possible.
The cost of the entire left-turn lane project is unknown, but Webster University Director of Facilities Craig Miller said in a July 2013 interview the estimated cost would be between $1.5 million to $3 million.
Council member Debi Salberg expressed her concern for pedestrian safety at the intersection of Edgar Road and Garden Avenue if the university expands it’s parking garage.
“There is a problem now and I cannot accept your argument that 550 more parking spaces is not going to aggravate that,” Salberg said.
Salberg said she worried traffic would increase and safety would be put at risk if Webster University adds additional parking.
“Somebody is going to get hit because some driver is going to push the envelope,” Salberg said. “There are safety issues here and you’re arguing semantics.”
Lee Cannon, principal traffic engineer for Crawford, Bunte, Brammeier Traffic and Transportation Engineers, said the left-turn lane will have an impact at the intersection.
“If a left-turn lane is there, it will be safer. If more traffic makes the movement, there will be more potential for conflict,” Cannon said.
Traci Pupillo, an attorney representing Webster University, said the parking garage would benefit the city of Webster Groves.
“I think it’s a win-win for both Webster University and Nerinx. And, I think 550 additional parking spaces would be good for Webster Groves,” Pupillo said.
Webster Groves resident Dave Buck questioned the university’s priorities based on their 2012 master plan, but acknowledged the university’s parking problem.
“It’s only going to get worse if they pursue this goal of increasing their undergraduate enrollment from 3,000 students to 5,000,” Buck said.
Construction on the parking garage expansion was scheduled to begin summer 2013, but in a May 2013 interview, Gunderson said construction would be pushed back to this fall. Out of the 548 additional spaces, Nerinx Hall would acquire 105 of them.
Miller said in a July 2013 interview Webster Groves city officials and the Metropolitan Sewer District asked the university to consolidate the garage and substation into one large project because both projects sit on the same parcel of land. Bill 8798 was unanimously passed through a June 18 city council meeting, allowing Webster University and Ameren Missouri to go build a substation on a .35 acre parcel of land on the east side of Lot O, the furthest eastern lot on Webster grounds.
Additional campus development cannot take place until the substation is built. However, due to the low levels of electricity in the parking garage, the garage expansion can still be built without completion of the substation. University officials conducted a traffic study in April and said they had determined a left-turn lane was not necessary if the parking garage was expanded. Financial costs, and whether a left-turn lane is necessary, are the only debates holding up the garage/substation project.
Pupillo said the left-turn lane shouldn’t be at Webster’s expense if it can’t be proven they are responsible for more traffic at the intersection.
“Studies show, if there is a problem, it is not in Webster University’s making. It’s the fairness aspect of paying for improvements. They aren’t necessarily causing the problem,” Pupillo said.