WINTHROP, Mo. — One lane of U.S. Highway 59 in southern Buchanan County has reopened, restoring a more direct route to St. Joseph, Missouri, after a month of closure.
The Atchison County Emergency Management office announced Wednesday that the Missouri Department of Transportation, in cooperation with the Buchanan County (Missouri) Road & Bridge Department, worked throughout the afternoon to install a berm on the north side of Highway 59, which runs east-west through the Winthrop, Missouri, area and connects to Missouri Highway 45 at the “Y” interchange.
Road crews completed the berm at about 2:15 p.m. on Highway 59 and organized a one-lane pathway for traffic heading between the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge and the Y interchange. Temporary stoplights have been installed on opposing sides of the berm to control the direction of travel.
James Shelton, a rural De Kalb, Missouri, resident who works at the Bradken Ltd. complex in Atchison, said that each closure this year has significantly impacted his commute.
With the highway closed, he has had no choice but to go north to U.S. Highway 36 to the Elwood crossing over the Pony Express Bridge, or south on U.S. Highway 73 to the Leavenworth crossing over the Centennial Bridge.
“It adds up to an hour, each direction of travel,” Shelton said. “It doesn’t matter which route you take, that’s what you’re dealing with because of this river.”
Shelton estimates that the restored normal commute will save him up to $250 each workweek, as he will now have more time to work, and will have lower expenses in food, gasoline and vehicle maintenance.
Cmdr. Mike Donaldson of the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday that amid the re-opening of the highway, drivers should observe commonsense safety principles and avoid all areas which remain behind flood barricades. Under Missouri state law, driving around a barricade could result in being issued a ticket for ignoring a traffic control device, and any attempt to move a barricade without authorization is a potential misdemeanor.
A crest of the flooded Missouri River triggered the shutdown of the crucial passageway on Sept. 24 for the third extended period this year. The water remains too high to repair the Rushville and Sugar Lake levee systems, and any renewed increases in the water level could pose future closure threats to the highway.
Jacque Pregont, president of the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce, said Ongoing Haunted Atchison events are expected to benefit from unfettered vehicle traffic on the highway and over the bridge into town. However, the first thing on her mind is what comes next. Benedictine College also welcomed the re-opening, which comes immediately before its Homecoming weekend events.
“I can say it’s a huge help to the economy to have the highway open again,” she said. “But it’s even more important that it stays open.”
The weather can’t be helped, but on Friday afternoon, a preventable shutdown of the highway briefly occurred following a five-car pileup. Missouri authorities dispatched to Mud Lake Road and Highway 59 in southern Buchanan County on a report a crash had occurred.
Fortunately, only two people suffered injuries in the crash; the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office told News-Press NOW that the injuries are not feared to be life-threatening. The person(s) responsible remained at large as of Friday evening, having fled in a vehicle from the scene. A vehicle and suspect description hadn’t been released by press time on Friday night.
The Y interchange, where Missouri Highway 45 and U.S. Highway 59 intersect beyond the MoKan bridge, re-opened after about two hours of closure while authorities grappled with the accident. Anyone with information on the crash should contact Buchanan County authorities at 816-236-8812.
Matthew Hoffmann, News-Press NOW breaking news reporter, contributed to this story.