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.


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.


Wash U, Downtown to Introduce Car Sharing Program

A few months ago at a breakfast on employer strategies for the Highway 40/I-64 shutdown, I had the opportunity to hear how Washington University is handling the construction and their general parking woes. Steve Hoffner, Assistant Vice Chancellor at Washington University, began the presentation by highlighting an area that critics like to bring up with Wash U: its big spending. Wash U is building a new student center that includes a 500-car underground parking garage. The cost per parking space? $43,000!

Even for a school with a giant endowment like Wash U, those kind of dollars spent on parking just don’t make a lot of sense. So, what are they doing to handle their parking problems and the Highway 40 construction? Some of it is the usual: flex-scheduling, carpooling, and telecommuting. Wash U is also in their second year of the “U-Pass”, an unlimited pass for Metro buses and trains given to full-time students and staff. This program gave out 17,000 passes in the first year with 1.9 million trips taken on Metro. This cost Wash U $2.2 million, which Mr. Hoffner insisted was not a “special deal” for Wash U.

Most interesting, though was the announcement that Washington University is going to introduce a car sharing program by the end of this calendar year. The two major players in car sharing, Flexcar and Zipcar (who will merge into one company), have thus far missed the St. Louis area in their rollout. Instead, Wash U will be partnering with Enterprise, the locally-based rental car giant. Details so far are sparse — reservations will be online and unlocking the car will be done using a personal computer chip. Rates and car types are thus far unknown. (Zipcar and Flexcar are roughly $8/hour and often have hybrids in their fleet).

Don’t go to Wash U? Don’t worry. According to the Citizens for Modern Transit, the partnership also includes Pyramid Construction and Loftworks, allowing those downtown to car share as well.


Prediction: I-270 Bears the Brunt of the Highway 40 Construction (Updated)

With the January 2nd shutdown of Highway 40/I-64 just two months away, the conventional wisdom is that the major traffic headaches will be seen on roads that parallel the closed portion of the highway. Clayton, Ladue, Manchester, and Olive will surely see substantial increases in traffic. As will I-44 and I-70, though those interstates will be able to absorb the traffic due to the added lanes on those roads (see recent article on the safety of that move). Yet, I don’t think it’s any of these roads that will bear the worst part of the traffic congestion after the shutdown. Rather, it will be I-270 that gets hit with the crawling traffic on a day-to-day basis.

First, we need to realize that I-270 is already running near capacity during most rush hours. Next, imagine the fire hose of traffic that’s eastbound on Highway 40 any morning. It will be forced to divert north or south on I-270, as shown on the map below. Chances are that most of drivers will choose the southbound route, since I-44 exits are closer to their Highway 40 counterparts than I-70. The result? Delays and jams on I-270, particularly between Highway 40 and I-44.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers/routes for more information; full map]

It won’t be just I-270 that gets the diverted traffic. Many of the north-south arteries in West County, such as 141 and Lindbergh, will struggle under the load of drivers finding new routes to their destinations.

It seems that some of the county’s traffic experts are worried as well. Garry Earls, director of the County’s Department of Highways and Traffic, had the following to say at a recent meeting of the I-64 Connection Subcommittee:

Garry Earls strongly recommended that state transportation officials do everything within their power to encourage east-bound I-64 motorists to take north-bound I-270 – once the interstate closures begin early next year. Earls is concerned that too many I-64/40 drivers will try to circumvent the closure by taking I-270 south to I-44, and thence to Elm Avenue. “The overwhelming majority of east-bound I-64 traffic is headed for Clayton, and I-44 won’t be able to handle them,” Earls predicted. “We have to figure out how to get those cars to the north – not the south, because we don’t have a place to put them. We have a place to park them, and that place is Webster Groves.

Earls continued to say that these motorists – rather than using I-44 to access the central corridor – must be given every incentive to take I-270 north from I-64 to reach Olive and Page.

MoDOT’s Ron Morris responded that the state can’t force motorists to take I-270 north from I-64, but that he would consult with other MoDOT traffic engineers about the possibility of providing an additional exit lane onto northbound I-270 for I-64 drivers to
use.

[source]

What are your thoughts? Where will the worst jams be in January of 2008? Leave a comment by clicking on the link below.

UPDATE 11/4/07:

It seems Fox 2 liked this posting. Friday they had an interview with Gerry Earls and showed a map very similar to the one above (down to the color of the routes). Glad someone’s reading!


Prediction: Eager Road becomes parking lot in 2008

Today, Gateway Constructors and MoDOT announced the official plans for the Highway 40/I-64 shutdown on January 2, 2008. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but I expected that Brentwood access to Highway 40 would remain intact. Alas, no. There will be no access between Highway 40 and Brentwood Blvd. In the map below, I’ve highlighted the key ramps that will be closed.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers for more information; Full map]

What’s the implication of this? Well, Eager Road (highlighted in red), already a nightmare during rush hour with the current construction, will only get worse. Drivers going between Brentwood and Hanley/Highway 40 will add to the already heavy traffic going to the multiple big box stores along Eager. Don’t count on returning those Christmas gifts to Best Buy or Target after January 2nd.

What about the Galleria? St. Louisans need their shopping fix, so the map above highlights a couple of alternate routes. The one in blue exits at Hanley Road, then Clayton Road to the Galleria. Although the shortest, I anticipate the Hanley exit will be extremely congested. In that case, take the scenic route, going north on I-170 (there will be two lanes to northbound I-170 from Highway 40). Then take your first exit, Forest Park Parkway. Exit at Brentwood Blvd going south to the Galleria. Then enjoy having most of the mall to yourself, since everyone else will be scared away from this area.


Latest Shutdown a Non-Issue?

The latest “major” shutdown of the Highway 40 construction project is the closure of the Westbound Highway 40 to Northbound I-170 ramp, starting tonight and lasting for 10 days. The past few major shutdowns have been non-events, with little to no backups nor any traffic tie-ups. What will happen this time?

A couple circumstances are different with this shutdown. For one, it doesn’t seem that the media coverage has been as intense. Only KMOV lead off their newscast with the closure on tonight’s evening news. Also, this closure does extend beyond a weekend and will include all rush hours next week.

If you do think traffic tie-ups are a possibility, check out alternate routes around the closure. In no-traffic conditions, the Brentwood alternate is the quickest, but only by about a minute. Let’s also hope that this ramp closure is a little better marked than last time.

In the end, will drivers think that this is another case of crying wolf and not change driving plans due to the closure? Or will this “major” closure turn out to be another non-event? Share your thoughts by adding a comment

============================

On a related note, it appears that the Balloon Glow resulted in the annual traffic tie-ups heading to Forest Park. Any horror stories to share?


Alternate Routes: Biggest Closure of the Year

Starting at 10PM tonight through 5AM Monday morning, Highway 40/I-64 will be shutdown from Hanley to Clayton/Skinker for demolition of three overpasses. Officials are calling this the most disruptive shutdown for all of 2007. Let’s take a look at the official detours and suggestions for alternate routes.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers for more information; Full map]

The official detour routes are shown above, westbound in blue and eastbound in green. Also highlighted are every road and overpass closure.

Motorists taking the westbound official detour will be routed north on Skinker then west on Forest Park Parkway, and finally south on I-170 to Highway 40. If the lights are timed appropriately and intersections controlled, this route has the potential to flow fairly well. The major areas for potential trouble are:

  • Cars trying to access Demun
  • Forest Park Parkway at Skinker and Big Bend
  • Merging traffic to one lane for the I-170 South ramp — If traffic is seriously backed up here, exit the Parkway at Shaw Park Drive and take Brentwood south to Highway 40
  • Double yellow line on I-170 — use caution!

The official eastbound route has motorists exiting Highway 40 at Hanley, continuing north to Clayton road, then east on Clayton to Highway 40. Officials have worked hard to minimize side street disruption particularly on Clayton between Hanley and Big Bend, yet there remain some serious potential trouble spots:

  • Hanley exit — this is a congested intersection already. Even with better timed lights or police control I cannot imagine that this intersection will be able to handle the detoured traffic volume. Look for major backups onto 40 and potential gridlock on Hanley road by Dale.
  • Clayton between Big Bend in Skinker — Although some side streets are closed here, this stretch of road is home to a large shopping center and hospital complex, causing potential jams.

Now that we’ve looked at the official detours, let’s discuss alternate routes. Unlike previous posts, I’m not mapping specific alternate routes, but will suggest some strategies for getting around backups:

  • Avoid Highway 40 — If you live near or west of I-270 and are headed to Forest Park or further east, don’t go near Highway 40. Take I-44 of I-70 to get to your destination. Same suggestion applies in reverse.
  • Exit early — The major pinch points will be the exits for the official detours. Be proactive and exit the highway earlier. If eastbound, you’ll be able to see any major backups before Brentwood Blvd, where you can exit and find alternates such as Manchester. For westbound traffic, consider bailing out at Kingshighway or south on Hampton. (Please don’t go north on Hampton and turn Forest Park into a giant parking lot).
  • Use the opposite detour — If westbound, you might consider taking Clayton road to Brentwood to Highway 40 if Skinker is too congested. If eastbound, exit at Brentwood, find your way to I-170 north and take Forest Park Parkway to your destination.

Feel free to share you suggestions for alternate routes in the comments area. Also, if you drive near Highway 40 this weekend, please share your experiences. This weekend will be the best training we have for the 2008 shutdown, so now’s the time to learn our lessons.

Update:

As you can imagine, there are several news stories covering the pending shutdown. Most interesting is KMOV’s coverage, which includes video of them driving the detour routes (a mind-numbing 20 minutes long) as well as helicopter coverage of the detour routes. Ah, to have the resources of a local news station at your disposal…

KMOV
Fox 2
STLToday


Alternate Route: Major Ramp Closure this Weekend (Updated)

With two major closures coming up in August, it’s time to start practicing those alternate routes. The first closure will be this weekend, when the ramp from Westbound 40 to Northbound I-170 will be closed from August 3rd at 7pm until August 6th at 5:30am.

Gateway Constructors, the contractor for the Highway 40 rebuilding project, has recommended a detour route exiting Highway 40 to north on Big Bend to west on Forest Park Parkway to I-170. That route is shown in blue in the map below:

[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers for more information; Full map]

I’ve highlighted two other alternate routes that you might consider:

  • Red route — If the official detour exit at Big Bend looks too crowded, exit Highway 40 at Hanley Road. Go north on Hanley Road, then turn left onto Forest Park Parkway, then join I-170
  • Green route — Exit Highway 40 at Brentwood. Go north on Brentwood, turn right on Galleria Parkway, then left onto Northbound I-170.

It’s good to see the official detour route recommend Forest Park Parkway, since the Parkway is the closest divided roadway in the area. However, I think the green route is the most obvious and potentially the quickest. The green route passes through 5 stoplights, one fewer than the official route, and spends less time off the highway. In the end, the best of these routes will probably be the one less traveled.

Upcoming, I’ll take a look at alternate routes for the complete Highway 40 shutdown planned in a couple weeks. What routes will you use this weekend? Leave a comment and share with others.

Update 8/3:

The Post-Dispatch ran a story on just this topic today, mentioning all three of the above options.


Alternate Route: Bikes and Gated Streets

Things are getting heated up regarding alternate routes to the Highway 40 shutdown next year. Westwood Village trustees threatened to gate off Conway Road, prompting a response from St. Louis County officials threatening to take over the road. The Post-Dispatch article on this subject highlights the use of gated streets throughout the metropolitan area as a way keep cars from taking shortcuts through various neighborhoods.

Sample Gated Street

My interest in gated streets is designing them to better support cyclists. As I mentioned in a previous post, one way to alleviate the traffic congestion with the Highway 40 shutdown is to encourage bicycling on routes not followed by cars. Gated streets are an ideal place for this.

When I was commuting by bike to downtown, my route passed through three different gated streets. Unfortunately, the only way around the gates or blockades was to ride up on the sidewalk. This is not particularly safe, as it conflicts with pedestrians and also causes bikes to appear where motorists do not expect them. A better solution would be to design the gates and blockades to allow cyclists to pass through them at street level, with appropriate traffic control devices at intersections. This would legitimize these streets as good bike routes and give cyclists a low-traffic way to commute around the city. Wouldn’t it be great if all municipalities required new gated streets to be designed to support cyclists? Perhaps MoDOT and area officials could route some of the money designated for alternate routes to redesigning current gated streets along the Highway 40 corridor?

For the record: as much as I relish the idea of zipping along a gated Conway Road on my bike while cars are backed up on Clayton and Ladue roads (Westwood Village trustees said they would keep it open for cyclists), I do not think this is a good idea at all. The answer to the Highway 40 congestion is not to close more streets to cars, but to improve the efficiency of current streets and promote alternative forms of transportation. Glad to see that the Westwood Village trustees now agree.


Alternate Routes: Open Highway 40 to Bicycles in 2008 (Updated)

The impending closure of Highway 40 from Brentwood Blvd to Ballas in 2008 has led planners to look for any way to squeeze more cars onto the nearby side streets. From the $1 million in West County road improvements to opening more of Forest Park to car traffic, the conventional wisdom has been to find more room for cars at all costs. This fear of coming gridlock even led to rumors that bicyclists would be banned from Clayton Road during construction. I say rather than discouraging bicycles, we should promote bicycle commuting as an alternate route during construction. And what better way to encourage it than to open Highway 40 to bicycles during construction.


[Zoom and pan the map as needed; Click on markers for more information]

If you look closely at the planned construction in 2008, you’ll see there are actually long stretches of road with no major interchanges. The plan shown in the map above uses these open areas to provide the perfect alternate route for bike commuters. There are two key points to this plan:

  • Two route options – The route I’ve laid out includes two different routes: a northern route and a southern route, each leveraging frontage roads where available. Each route would be a paved two-way bicycle path, giving MoDOT the flexibility to close either route as necessary for construction.
  • Route around overpasses — The main reason for closing the highway altogether is to allow construction crews to completely tear down the overpasses and rebuild them without having to route traffic over a portion of the bridge (like is currently being done at Olive and I-170). The proposed bike routes would exit the highway at both Lindbergh and Clayton/Warson and use surface streets until it can rejoin the highway.

Certainly, there will be detractors of this plan who say it will be too costly and interfere with construction plans. Regarding costs, the price tag for this bike path would likely be a rounding error for the overall budget, and MoDOT could use some of the money they are spending on alternate car routes. As for interfering with construction plans, I’m optimistic that given a little creativity, construction crews can find a way to keep a 10-foot wide strip of asphalt open during construction.

Now just imagine zipping along Highway 40 on your bike to work, while your auto-bound friends sit in the jam along Clayton Road. . .

Update 6/22:

The I-64 Community Relations team responded to my suggestion here to add a bike path along the construction route. It looks like the entire road will be torn up, and they don’t see any way to support a bike path. It’s disappointing, but I understand that many design decisions have already been made. I will continue to seek ways that bike commuters can be supported through the construction project.

Regarding your suggestion that we allow bikes to use the closed portion of I-64 during the reconstruction:
All of the highway is being reconstructed, including all the pavement between the intersections, and reaching down to the subgrade with drainage structures. All of the pavement will be broken up and processed and/or hauled away. The work will include frequent traffic with large construction equipment, concrete trucks and large hauling trucks filled with a variety of materials. Unfortunately, there would be no safe path available for cyclists.


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