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.


Little Delays Adding Up

I drove southbound I-170 today and was surprised to find that it was still just one lane from Galleria Parkway to Eager Road and Highway 40. As you may recall, the reconfiguration of I-170 was supposed to be a two week project finishing December 17th. On December 19th, MoDOT spokesperson Linda Wilson said she expected it to be finished by that weekend (Dec. 22 and 23). Now it’s December 31st, and the rerouting is not done. Thankfully, I don’t anticipate this would affect the shutdown, since the current lane configuration can easily feed to the new flyover ramp.

However, combined with the constant delays in the I-44 restriping (still not done as of yesterday), the real question is: do these small delays add up? With challenges in getting things ready for the shutdown, is there any hope that MoDOT can deliver on the promised times for completion? Perhaps MoDOT turned off those “Countdown to Completion” signs for reasons other than it was “confusing”?


I-170 Mess in December AND 2008

As you may have heard, starting tomorrow, southbound I-170 will be reduced to one lane from Galleria Parkway to Eager Road for approximately two weeks. Dan Galvin said on Fox 2 that this is “not going to be pretty”. Already the two lanes of southbound I-170 back up to at least the Galleria Parkway as people try to get on Highway 40 or Eager Road. Now, imagine that’s one lane, and I can see backups extending to Forest Park Parkway or even further north.

Now, you may think this is a temporary inconvenience, since MoDOT has stated that this will only last for two weeks. However, you need to look more closely at the construction plans come the shutdown on January 2nd, 2008. Here’s the lane layout that Gateway Constructors has published:

http://www.thenewi64.org/download/construction_zone/2008%20Brentwood-Eager%20Details.pdf

Sure, if you’re going east on Highway 40 from I-170, you’ll have two lanes on the new flyover ramp. But if you’re headed anywhere else (Hanley, Brentwood, Eager, etc.), you need to look a little more closely:

I-170 at Eager Rd during Highway 40 construction

There will be just a single lane from Galleria Parkway to Eager Road. Not only that, but, as the blue arrow shows, you won’t have any separate turn lanes onto Eager. All traffic will be funneled through the intersection in a single lane. I have confirmed this with Gateway Constructors.

How many cars can you send through that light at a time? 20, 30? Is there any hope that this configuration will handle all the traffic trying to get onto Eager and the Brentwood Promenade?


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


Confusing Ramp Closure Signs

A couple of weekends ago, the ramp from Westbound Highway 40/I-64 to Northbound I-170 was closed while steel girders were put into place. I drove the route that Saturday to see how well the closure was working. During the drive from Kingshighway to I-170 on Highway 40, I saw three electronic message boards announcing the ramp closure. So far so good. But then I arrived at I-170 and saw this sign.

I-170 Ramp Sign

If the ramp to I-170 is really closed, then why is there a giant sign pointing that way? Is it that difficult to put a “CLOSED” sign over top of these signs? I can only imagine how out-of-town visitors handled this…

“Hmm, the electronic signs say this ramp is closed ahead, but I don’t know Big Bend, so let’s keep going”

“Oh look, a giant I-170 sign, this must be the detour.”

“Wait, where’s the ramp?”

In fact, as I was driving eastbound at I-170 on that Saturday, I saw a car that appeared to be having that exact thought. They’d slowed down right where the sign was, looking for the exit ramp. The only indication it was closed was this small road closed sign, easily missed among all the construction gear.

Road closed sign

Let’s face it. Drivers don’t always pay attention. They’re particularly confused when things change from their normal patterns. Yes, there were 3 electronic signs saying the ramp was closed, but when you leave the major ramp sign as-is, you’re just inviting confusion. These closures need to be marked better.

————————————————————

By the way, I timed how long it took to drive the official detour and the two suggested alternates in my previous post. Times are from McCausland and 40 to Ladue and I-170:

Blue route (official detour): 7:38
Red route: 7:17
Green route: 6:27

There was little traffic on any route, and the times were pretty close to one another. In other words, the ramp closure seemed to be a non-event. However, I wouldn’t expect the same this weekend when the entire highway is shutdown.


MoDOT’s “Map My Trip” Not Working As Advertised

If you’ve ever used Google Maps or Mapquest to get directions somewhere, you’ll know what MoDOT’s “Map My Trip” is supposed to do. Give it a starting point and ending point, and out will come turn-by-turn directions. What makes “Map My Trip” different, though, is that it is supposed to route you around road closures caused by construction in St. Louis city and county.

So, why, on this weekend of a major ramp closure from Highway 40 west to I-170 north, does “Map My Trip” tell you to take that closed ramp? As shown below, when given a fictitious route from Busch Stadium to near 170 and Delmar, the Map My Trip tool blissfully routes you along the closed I-170 ramp.

Sample Map My Trip route

There are many people nervous about traveling in the construction zones, and they are looking for guidance around closed ramps and roads. MoDOT has heavily advertised this tool toward those people. But if MoDOT can’t get it to work properly with such a big ramp closure as this weekend’s, I’d have to doubt the tool’s value at all.


Summary of Highway 40 WebCams and Photos

If you’d like to see how the Highway 40/I-64 construction project is progressing without venturing into traffic, here are a number of web-cams and photo galleries to give you a close-up view:

Kingshighway Web Cam Image
from thenewi64.org

Web-cams

  • The New I-64 Web site — great high-quality shots of the Kingshighway intersection. Try the “time lapse” feature. Views of the I-170 interchange should be coming, but those cameras currently look into someone’s cubicle!
  • Fox 2/Science Center — a view from the Science Center bridge looking on Highway 40
  • Gateway Guide Traffic Camera — Choose the camera at I-170 to see some grainy construction shots

Photo Galleries

  • KMOV Channel 4 — Look for the “construction photos” links. One is a great photo gallery submitted by Don Galvin, spokesman for Gateway Constructors. (As a side note, Dan Galvin is a mountain biker! A full story on Dan was in a St. Louis Business Journal article.)
  • The New I-64 Newsletter — Check out page 2 of the just-released summer newsletter for a nice montage of photos.
  • Post Dispatch Historic Photos — Look for the “Historic Photos of Highway 40″ on the right-hand side of the page

If you know of other webcams or photo galleries, share them in the comments section.


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.


  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 Post4TrafficOnline.com?
    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