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

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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.

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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.


Featured on Fox 2 News in the Morning (Updated)

Highway 40 Insight was featured on Fox 2 News in the Morning today. John and Randi had a good time with my favorite posting: Lane Shifts and the Loss of Common Sense.

Update 8/2:

John and Randi from Fox 2 interviewed me this morning about the web site and, particularly, the videos on the site (lane shift video, double yellow line video). We were a bit rushed due to coverage of the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Still, it was a fun experience and hopefully got the message out to a few more drivers to be careful in the construction zones.


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.


Worker killed on Highway 40

I’m sure many of you have seen the tragic news of Gavin Donohue, the college student/summer construction intern who was killed on Highway 40 in Chesterfield over the weekend. He was working for Pace Construction, not as part of the major Highway 40 rebuilding but on a repaving project. Let’s hope that some good can come from his death, in that all drivers strive to eliminate injuries and death in our area construction zones. The lives of drivers and construction workers are not an equitable trade for getting home from the Cardinals game a few minutes faster.

Full coverage:


Double Yellow Line Danger on I-170 (Updated)

In a previous post, we saw how the lane shift at Tamm avenue caused drivers to wander out of their lanes. At least they were all going in the same direction. Recent changes on I-170 near Highway 40 have resulted in two way traffic separated by just a double yellow line. Let’s see how drivers handle this situation:

In the few minutes I watched traffic at I-170 and Galleria Parkway, nearly 50% of cars in the outside lane touched or crossed the dashed white line. Fewer crossed the double yellow line, but it only takes one car to do it at the wrong time before you have a serious head-on collision (like this crossover accident on I-64 in Illinois this week). It seems that southbound drivers are approaching this area too quickly to negotiate the lane shift to the right without wandering out of their lanes.

Median Crossover GuidelinesI looked at the federal guidelines to see what they specify for such a situation. Although these guidelines are always subject to interpretation, the guidance I found would recommend use of channelizing devices instead of just the double yellow line. The figure to the right shows the guidance for median crossover on a freeway. It specifies as a standard “Channelizing devices or temporary traffic barriers shall be used to separate opposing vehicular traffic.”

Another section of the federal guidelines addresses a similar situation to I-170, but just for a total of two lanes:


Standard:
When two-lane, two-way traffic control must be maintained on one roadway of a normally divided highway, opposing vehicular traffic shall be separated with either temporary traffic barriers (concrete safety-shape or approved alternate) or with channelizing devices throughout the length of the two-way operation. The use of markings and complementary signing, by themselves, shall not be used.

Tubular channelizing deviceBased on what I’ve seen at I-170, I would recommend avoiding this section of roadway until some sort of channelizing device is put into place to separate opposing traffic. The device shown at the right could be put in place with little impact on spacing. If you are concerned about this section of roadway, share a comment here, but, most importantly, let the I-64 construction team know by leaving them a comment on their web site. I will be.

Update 07/06/07:

The team at thenewi64.org was once again prompt and professional in their response to my concerns about this section of I-170. Here’s what they had to say:

The area you describe is not a typical interstate construction zone. The freeway currently ends and begins at Eager Rd. In the current construction configuration, it operates as a typical 4-lane arterial roadway, with the double yellow line separating the north- and south-bound traffic. Traffic in this area is posted with a workzone speed limit of 45 mph. Vehicles in this section are approaching a stop or just leaving from a stop, so the interstate standards are not relevant. A channelizing device is not required for that type of roadway condition.

I agree that northbound traffic is leaving a stop and is more cautious going through this construction zone. However, it’s the southbound I-170 drivers that think they’re on a interstate when they enter this construction zone. That area around Galleria Parkway sees high speed southbound drivers, and I do think that some channelizing device would reduce the risk of a head-on collision.


  1. About

    Highway 40 Insight analyzes the Highway 40 construction project from the perspective of an everyday driver. Entries are written by Jason Hunt, who has no education in traffic engineering, but doesn't let that stop him from commenting on traffic matters.
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