Fix for Highway 79 collapse a year away

The Missouri Department of Transportation hopes to have a final plan in place to deal with the Highway 79 collapse by the end of this summer.

Meanwhile folks living and working along Highway 79 say regardless of what is done to fix the road, they want it done sooner rather than later.

You'll recall this stretch of Highway 79 between Ashburn and Louisiana has seen trouble in the last year, after two portions of the road began to break away from the hillside and slide down the cliff.

The most recent happened back in November, which prompted MODOT to close the portion of Highway 79 until further notice until permanent repairs could be made.

Since then, geologists have found six other sites along this section of road moving due to wet weather.

MODOT is looking at several options to fix it, including rebuilding the road in its current location or relocating it in the Salt River bottoms.

Click here to learn about those options:

Whatever the plan chosen, construction wouldn't begin until next year.

The Story Continues Below....._______________________________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________

What is the major hold up on Route 79?

Lydia Brownell, Senior Geotechnical Specialist with MODOT said, "On Route 79, the major hold up is funding. Right now we have delayed construction on two bridges in Lincoln County in hopes of putting funding towards this project. We're moving as quickly as we can, we cannot open it up temporarily because the existing slide is still moving."

The Missouri Transportation Commission which oversees MODOT statewide still has to sign off on the project. That's expected to happen this summer. After that MODOT will begin work to get right of ways, with construction beginning as soon as possible. That's most likely to be sometime in the summer of 2011, with completion in the winter of next year.

But residents along Highway 79 are concerned about that timetable. That means 79 would remain closed for a full two years. Earlier this week, MODOT held public meetings with residents and businesses in order to gather input and concerns regarding the closure. The main concern is the length of time 79 will be closed. That's especially a worry for folks along the river who depend upon the traffic on 79 for their business.

Erin Garrison has owned and operated the Great River Road Pottery and Wood Shop for eight years. She says despite the kick off of tourism is slow these days. She attributes it to the Route 79 closure.

Have you noticed a difference in business since Route 79 collapsed?

Garrison said, "Unfortunately, yes, particularly in the spring when people began traveling up and down the river road, we've noticed a huge drop off in visitors to Clarksville."

It's the same story up the street at Clarksville Glassworks. Owner Patricia Connelly says folks are still making their way up the river road from the south, but the closure is making it harder for folks from the north to pass through.

Connelly said, "We have not so much people from the south, but the question is how do we attract people from the north from Quincy, Bowling Green and even people from Hannibal."

It's especially a concern for new business owner Kevin Massiglia. He just opened this photography studio in town. With half as much traffic through town, he wonders about the long term consequences for his business and others.

Massiglia said, "We're concerned the longer it goes on the fewer people will come and the people who come in the past may not come. It's frustrating that we're having to we know people are out there and come from Iowa and Northern Missouri and Illinois and once they take the detour, often times they don't get back on 79."

And the biggest concern is the time frame. MODOT says the construction on 79 could be completed by winter of next year. That will mean this stretch will be closed two full years. Business owners says that's too long to lose this much business.

Do you worry?

Garrison said, "Oh yes, we do. I worry about the new shops that have some to town. We're very concerned that by the time this road is fixed, it will be two years and that is a long time for us."

Garrison wants MODOT to make a temporary one-lane fix through this area so tourists can get through. But MODOT says that's just not possible because of safety concerns.

So in the meantime, business owners are doing all they can to keep their lifeline alive, and hoping you'll help them with a visit through town.

Business owners want MODOT to put up more signs to direct folks into Clarksville from Highway 61 and from the detoured routes. MODOT officials we talked to say they've done just that...with more signs on Highway 61 as well as listing Clarksville on its Traveler Information Map online.