Totally Tubular on I-170

After more than six month of dangerous conditions on I-170 near Eager Road, MoDOT has finally taken some action, though some might consider it a bit extreme.

Back in July, I documented the dangers of an interstate with just a double yellow line separating traffic. This year, things only got worse. If you are southbound on I-170 and want to continue to Eager Road, you steer left of the concrete barrier, right next to oncoming traffic north on I-170. This has resulted in at least a couple of reports of wrong way traffic on the west-to-north flyover ramp.

Tubular MarkerMy recommendation was simple. Line the tenth of a mile of 2-way traffic with tubular markers (shown at the right), similar to those on Hanley at Dale/Eager,. Simple and space-saving. Instead, Gateway Constructors and MoDOT decided to shutdown northbound I-170 traffic from Eager Road. Here’s their explanation:

Though north and southbound I-170 traffic has been in a similar configuration since May without incident, the recent opening of the south to east flyover ramp moved the Eager exit to the left lane, while the center and right lanes took the flyover ramp to eastbound I-64. The design was safe and there have been no major incidents, but the public concern for a change has driven this decision.

C’mon. It’s safe, there’s no incidents, but “public concern” resulted in the change? How can wrong-way drivers on an interstate be considered safe? If it was really safe, there wouldn’t be a need to shut down the northbound lane. It’s not safe, but MoDOT and Gateway Constructors won’t admit it.

What impact will this shutdown have on traffic? Normally, I’d say that this would cause a traffic mess, since the only way to get on northbound I-170 from Hanley is to cut across Eager, north on Brentwood, then get on I-170 at Galleria Parkway. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since January 2nd it’s that traffic jams are awfully hard to come by. Many of the alternative routes are actually at the same or lower volumes than before the shutdown. Go figure.

Summary of Highway 40 Shutdown Trouble Spots

In preparation for “Manic Monday”, I thought readers might appreciate a summary of the trouble spots seen so far with the Highway 40 (I-64) shutdown. As you know, things haven’t been all that bad so far, but the conventional wisdom is that Monday will show increased traffic loads as people return from the holidays.

Shown on the map below are all the slow areas and trouble spots, as identified by MoDOT and St. Louis County in their daily briefing reports and rush hour traffic summaries. I have to give credit to MoDOT and St. Louis County for their work here. It’s seldom that you see government respond to issues so quickly and with as much transparency as we’ve seen in the first few days of the shutdown.

Just click on the icons or routes for more information. You can also view the full map here.

What’s Wrong With is the 800-pound gorilla in St. Louis traffic reporting sites. Put together just in time for the Highway 40 closure, this site should combine the in-depth reporting of the Post-Dispatch with the visually appealing videos from Channel 4 KMOV. Endless commercials on KMOV bill it as “the ultimate source for traffic information online in St. Louis”.

In reality, though, this “site” is just a single page that mushes all of the Post-Dispatch and KMOV content into one snapshot. It doesn’t behave as a single site. If you click on the button to play the highlighted video, it opens a new window on the KMOV site (with the video about 1/4 of the size on the home page). Want to click on an accident on the traffic map? Sorry, that pops up a new window as well and then loads the “real” traffic map, where you have to click on the accident again. In the end, you’ve got all kinds of browser windows open and no coherent view of traffic.

This set up might be forgivable, but the content is just wrong.

Here’s three examples:

There’s a mapping tool on the site that’s supposed to route you around the construction. When I asked it to get me from University City to Town and Country, the generated directions routed me onto the closed Highway 40. C’mon, this is basics folks!

Another neat looking feature gives you drive times and congestion reports. The problem? Around the lunch hour today, several areas (I-270, and 40 west of I-270) were reported as “gridlocked”, even though Gateway Guide cameras showed clear sailing throughout.

Well, at least they reported the closed section of Highway 40 as “gridlocked”!

(In fact, as I write this post, the “Drive Times and Congestion” feature is now missing from the Post4TrafficOnline site)

Finally, I found it odd that the featured video this afternoon was the afternoon weather forecast. Is this a traffic web site or a weather web site?

Looks like the Post-Dispatch and KMOV have a little bit of work to do.

Prediction: Highway 40 Shutdown Not So Bad — At First

To watch the local news and read the newspaper, one might be forgiven for thinking that Armageddon is at St. Louis’ doorstep. Using the verb “survive” to describe a commute could be a bit of poetic license. That’s why I’m going to buck the trend and make the prediction that the Highway 40 shutdown will not be all that bad… at least at first.

Sure, you may wait an extra cycle at a light, and if your previous commute was straight down Highway 40, it will take longer. But initially, at least, you won’t see gridlock nor will 20 minute commutes turn into 2 hours. Why? Quite simple. The media has scared the daylights out of anyone who is not required by their job or the law to travel in the vicinity of Highway 40. The fashionable New Year’s resolutions are to cancel any discretionary trips near West County.

Forgive the diversion, but this reminds me of a story. Back in 1993, I was starting a new semester at college and was watching the local St. Louis news with a foreign exchange student who’d just arrived in the U.S. from Germany the day before. The lead story on the news was that Highway 40 in the Chesterfield Valley was re-opened after the floods had receded. What was this student’s reaction to this clearly earth shattering news for the St. Louis driving-obsessed public? Laughter. She simply couldn’t understand how a road’s status could be a lead news story. I guess she could be forgiven, though, since she came from a country with an actual functioning nationwide mass transit system.

Back to today’s Highway 40 obsession. Yes, you could get up at 4:30 AM tomorrow and watch the “Special Report” on Highway 40 on your favorite local news station. Not that there can be anything useful to say at 4:30 in the morning, other than it’s dark, cold, and, yes, Highway 40 is closed. But it will continue to feed the frenzy and keep people away from the roads.

I can’t say how long this hysteria will last — at least until the next local celebrity is caught drinking and driving. Eventually the media frenzy will die off and word will get out that the roads aren’t so bad. Since those discretionary trips can’t be postponed forever, the drivers will return and venture out again. When that happens, my previous predictions will come true — some key chokepoints will cause headaches for many a driver in 2008.

In the meantime, enjoy your drive.

Yes, Virginia, There is an Official Detour

Earlier this year, MoDOT insisted there would not be an official published detour for the closure of Highway 40 in 2008. But indeed, there is one: Eastbound, it’s north on I-270, east on I-70, then south on I-170. Westbound is the reverse: north on I-170, west on I-70, and south on I-270. Of course, this is the only possible route MoDOT could publish, as it’s the only all-interstate route around the closure. Will anyone actually take it? Perhaps the stray visitor might, but at a whopping 22.7 miles (vs. 6.2 miles on Highway 40), most St. Louisans will be looking for a shortcut.

  1. Recent Posts

    1. Highway 40 Re-opening: Final Predictions
    2. Totally Tubular on I-170
    3. Summary of Highway 40 Shutdown Trouble Spots
    4. What’s Wrong With
    5. Prediction: Highway 40 Shutdown Not So Bad — At First
    6. Yes, Virginia, There is an Official Detour
    7. Little Delays Adding Up
    8. Long Light
    9. My Preschooler Can Draw Better Lines
    10. January Weekend Woes

  2. Search Website