Highway 40 Re-opening: Final Predictions

Well, the wait is over. St. Louis’s two year traffic nightmare is about to come to an end.

What’s that? It wasn’t really that bad? Oh, I guess you’re right, but you wouldn’t have known that from reading this blog – dead since the original shutdown began in January of 2008. The original predictions of mayhem (including some of my own) thankfully didn’t come true. Yet, as the highway plans to re-open, I thought it would be a good time to embarrass myself some more by issuing some final predictions.

Highway 40 traffic will flow more smoothly

There are a lot of good improvements accompanying the Highway 40 reconstruction, most notably on the mainline highway itself. The ramp from eastbound 40 to northbound I-170 has been a welcome relief for West Country drivers headed to Clayton or Washington University. Fewer — yet longer — on-ramps will eliminate congestion. Back in 2007, I predicted better traffic for Highway 40, and today’s Post-Dispatch article confirms it. I look forward to seeing it.

So, the mainline highway design is the winner, but what about the crossing arterials?

Brentwood and Hanley intersections will suffer

A big reason for the anticipated improved traffic flow at Highway 40 and I-170 is the merging of the Brentwood and Hanley exits into one. From either direction, there’s just one off-ramp and one on-ramp for both Brentwood and Hanley combined.

This is great for flow on Highway 40, but it also increases the amount of traffic going through the lights at Brentwood and Hanley. Exiting eastbound 40 for Hanley? You’ll have to stop first at Brentwood. On Hanley wanting to get to westbound 40? Again, plan on a stop at Brentwood. Same story if you flip eastbound/westbound and Hanley/Brentwood.

See the plans in all their details on MoDOT’s site.

Fortunately, Brentwood will have less traffic due to the ramp from eastbound 40 to northbound I-170. Yet, all told, I think you’ll see more traffic and probably more congestion at the Brentwood and Hanley intersections. Keep an eye here over the next few weeks — first to witness all the confusion and complaints over the merged exits, and then to see if traffic flows well at these intersections.

Lindbergh intersection at risk for gridlock

Lindbergh Hwy 40 interchangeYou might think that the Lindbergh intersection is old news. After all, it’s been open nearly a year without any significant issues. However, traffic exiting Highway 40 to Lindbergh has been lower than it will be after the re-opening, and I’m a little worried.

As you know, the new interchange at Lindbergh introduced a new stoplight for the Single Point Urban Interchange (SPUI). This light is awfully close to the Lindbergh-Clayton intersection (see image), and — prior to construction — southbound Lindbergh traffic would routinely back up under the Highway 40 overpass. If that were to happen with the new interchange, it could block traffic from getting through the interchange at all, causing gridlock. Additionally, those drivers going from eastbound Highway 40 to southbound Lindbergh have no merge lane, just a yield sign. Backed up traffic on Lindbergh will block these drivers from getting off the highway.

Careful timing of these lights will go a long way toward avoiding gridlock, but I wonder if these close intersections can handle it.

So Long

Well, that’s all my predictions for now, and likely my last post for this blog. I’ll leave the site up for another couple months, but I suspect by February, the Highway 40/I-64 closure will be a distant memory.

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.

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


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.

Prediction: WB Highway 40 will not jam at I-170

As mentioned in the introductory post for this blog, I will have regular posts that predict how traffic will flow after the Highway 40 construction is complete. Not that I have any credentials to do such predictions, but, honestly, it’s fun, and if I’m wrong, well people will have forgotten about it by December 31, 2009 anyway.

I thought I’d start with an easy prediction: Westbound 40 will flow more smoothly at I-170 and not jam as regularly as it did pre-construction. Let’s at least hope so! If we’re spending $535 million to improve the highway, one might expect to it flow a little more smoothly.

In order to back up this prediction with some analysis, let’s look at what was causing the regular westbound 40 jams pre-construction. The key is to look at where the jam clears up, not where traffic begins to slow down. For westbound 40 during the evening rush, the slowdown might start as far back as the Science Center, but it would always open briefly right between Hanley and I-170 before another (sometimes brief) slowdown just west of Brentwood. So, we need to focus on the Hanely/I-170/Brentwood area.

The map above shows the key chokepoints on Highway 40 pre-construction. Traffic from Hanley road onto westbound 40 was forced to merge quickly and criss-cross with traffic that was destined for northbound I-170. All of this lane changing in a short time slows down traffic, and the backup just propagated further back as the evening rush volume increased. Once all the cars had completed their lane changes, traffic would open back up again just past these two chokepoints, until traffic from southbound I-170 and Brentwood tried to squeeze into the three lanes of already-near-capacity traffic on westbound 40. This caused the final chokepoint in the daily commuter’s trek along westbound 40.

The design for the new Highway 40 eliminates these chokepoints, which will lead to a much smoother flow of traffic through the I-170 interchange. The video below, courtesy of Gateway Constructors, shows how westbound 40 will look after the construction.

Video from http://thenewi64.org courtesy Gateway Constructors (Problems viewing? View directly and fast-forward to the one minute mark.)

To view the designs up close, take a look at the Brentwood/Hanley/I-170 plans from thenewi64.org. If you zoom in, you will notice two key points:

  • No direct merges from Hanley to westbound 40 — this eliminates the first two chokepoints, since Hanley traffic won’t merge until after traffic bound for I-170 has already exited. (A future prediction will look at what this means for Hanley and Brentwood)
  • Additional lanes to support merging westbound traffic — Plans had always talked about an extra lane west of I-170, but in fact there will be two extra lanes between Brentwood and McKnight, giving plenty of space to absorb traffic joining westbound 40 from I-170, Brentwood, and Hanley.

Interestingly, construction crews have already eliminated the Hanley access points to westbound 40. If it weren’t for the large lane shift at I-170, I suspect you’d already see fewer backups on westbound 40, due to the elimination of those short merges and criss-crosses.

Overall, this is a very positive new design that should make for more pleasant evening commutes at this complicated interchange.

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