August 23, 2001
Rep. Berkowitz Urging Local Support Of Highway 61 Petition
After two more teenagers were killed on a treacherous stretch of Highway 61 the local student activist group in Lewis County once again is pressing the Missouri State Highway Commission to make improve-ments on the highway that has earned the nickname "Death Alley".
First District Representative Sam Berkowitz has joined forces with the SMART organization of students. They have launched a petition drive across the first district and the Tri-state area to try to make the transportation decision makers aware of the need to finalize the Avenue of the Saints plan and make the last remaining stretch of Highway 61 between Canton and Wayland four-laned.
"This is one of the most important things I've worked on during my tenure as state representative - the upgrade of Highway 61 to four-lane, divided highway," Berkowitz said. "The SMART student group is a savvy, energetic bunch that has a will and determination to get things done, and I feel that it is our duty to support their commendable efforts."
The SMART student group started in Canton roughly 18 months ago following the death of Kristin Hendrickson just days before she was to start her senior year of high school. The teenager died in a head-on traffic crash less than a mile away from where Highway 61 changes from two-lane to four-lane traffic.
More recently two more teens were killed along this same stretch of highway. Darrin Cale and Adam Martin both were students of Canton High School. The latest fatalities have once again intensified the efforts of the SMART group.
The organization has brought its case to local and state officials including Governor Bob Holden. Their actions were directly attributed to the recent announcement of bond funding to four-lane the stretch of Highway 61 between LaGrange and Canton.
Now the group is expanding its efforts to finalize the four-lane project between Canton and Wayland to complete the state's promise of an Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.
Berkowitz indicated this stretch of road is the lone portion of the proposed project that is not currently under project to be four- laned.
Recently SMART requested time on the agenda for the September 7 meeting of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission meeting in Jefferson City. Unfortunately the group has not been scheduled for the meeting. However that has not stopped the SMR petition drive that is seeking 25,000 local signatures calling for completion of Highway 61 to be presented at the meeting.
The petition reads: "We the undersigned plead and pray that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission take any and all action to expedite the engineering, right-of-way purchase, and construction of U.S. 61 (Avenue of the Saints) from LaGrange to the Iowa state line and formally request a completion date of no later than September 30, 2004."
Rep. Berkowitz noted that the petition is a show of support for the project from those who travel Highway 61 on a regular basis. There is no age requirement to sign the petition, nor are signers required to be registered to vote.
"Most every resident of Northeast Missouri knows of someone who has met tragedy on some portion of this highway, and the SMART group is to be commended for doing something about it," said Berkowitz.
Copies of the petition are available at the Memphis Democrat office. Anyone wishing to assist in the signature drive may obtain a copy or may sign the petition there.