Local public officials, business owners and residents filled the council chambers for the afternoon meeting, led by Missouri Department of Transportation District Engineer Tom Stehn and two assistants.
Stehn said that rather than adding a signal light near the high school's east entrance on Highway 142, "a continuous left-turn lane will give you the most bang for your buck."
Stehn said building the lane from Highway 63 to the high school parking lot entrance on Highway 142 will cost about $250,000 and could not be funded until at least 2013 or 2014.
The work would include sidewalk replacement and road striping.
Jennifer Atkinson, MoDOT traffic operations engineer, said the department already has changed the timing of the Highway 142 left turn signal at Highway 63, adding 30 seconds for left turns from 3-3:30 p.m. on school days.
Many audience members said the additional turn time has helped traffic flow more quickly.
Problems still exist, however, some said, when motorists attempt to turn into the Bobcat Station or McDonald's restaurant.
Showing a chart he prepared before the meeting, Thayer Alderman Bob Freeman said he timed one eastbound motorist at 10 minutes waiting to turn left into the Walmart parking lot as school dismissed.
A younger driver may have attempted turning left sooner, but the elderly motorist waited, he said. Her wait backed up traffic to Highway 63, he said.
Stehn said a left-turn lane will correct that problem.
Freeman asked if adding concrete islands would help direct traffic.
Stehn said MoDOT would paint traffic lines onto the roadway instead.
Atkinson said that although the cost of adding a signal light is less than building a lane, it is less practical.
"The traffic coming out of the high school is not enough to hold up traffic 24 hours a day for 30 minutes of inconvenience," she said.
MoDOT project designer Pete Berry said the state would not need to purchase easements for the turn lane, and would widen the roadway on the north side.
Thayer School District Superintendent Dan Chappell asked about sidewalk improvements to help pedestrians cross Highway 142.
Stehn said projects such as this are best evaluated in stages. After the turn lane is added, pedestrian traffic options could be reviewed, he said.
MoDOT's State Transportation Improvement Project funds are overspent until 2014, Stehn said, adding that the project could not be considered for funding until at least 2013. However, a proposal can go before the transportation commission in May 2011 to be considered for funding in the 2012-16 cycle, he said.
Oregon County projects
When Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood asked if any other projects are set for the county this year, Stehn said Highway 63 will be repaved.
Two-foot shoulders with rumble strips also are scheduled to be added to Highway 142 East to Highway E, Stehn said.
"That will save a lot of lives," a resident said.
Stehn said the state could use help from local agencies to fund the left-turn-lane project, as MoDOT is doing the best it can now to maintain its existing system.
Eighty-six percent of the state's 5,600 miles of major roads are in good condition, while 60 percent of minor roads are rated good, Stehn said.
With 33,000 miles of highways in the state, MoDOT has cut 250 workers. The goal is to reduce MoDOT's force by 400 more employees, Stehn said.
"You'll see some minor improvements, but nothing major," Stehn said of upcoming highway projects.
At the end of the hour-long meeting, many audience members applauded the MoDOT officials' presentation.
The meeting was the second with MoDOT regarding the issue. The first meeting was in December 2010 in Thayer.
Stehn said city leaders could request a third meeting, if necessary. In the meantime, MoDOT will prepare a proposal for a left-turn lane, he said.