Curious Louis: Your St. Louis highway, byway and roadway questions, answered | St. Louis Public Radio

Curious Louis: Your St. Louis highway, byway and roadway questions, answered

Apr 28, 2016

Since we launched the Curious Louis project last fall, we’ve received plenty of questions/musings/perplexed cries for answers regarding highways, byways and roadways in St. Louis. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh got answers to some of them by convening a panel of three experts.

Representatives from St. Louis City, St. Louis County and the state (MoDOT) joined the show:

  • David Wrone, Public Information Manager, St. Louis County’s departments of Transportation and Public Works
  • Tom Blair, Assistant District Engineer, Missouri Department of Transportation
  • Deanna Venker, Traffic Commissioner, City of St. Louis

This panel is not meant to undermine the importance of alternative transportation (MetroLink, MetroBus, Uber, trolleys, walking, biking, ridesharing, etc.), but rather in response to the many questions we received about driving/roadways in Missouri. Also worth noting: Each question we received dealt with Missouri roadways, so the experts we are bringing in for this segment have that background information. If you do have questions about such methods of alternative transportation or Illinois roadways, please email talk@stlpublicradio.org or ask your question of Curious Louis here.

Here are the answers we received to some of your questions:

“Why are so many St. Louis manhole covers 2 or 3 inches below the street grade? I spend a lot of my driving time trying to dodge them.”

Venker: “What I found out is that they typically need to be reconstructed. Water and MSD, they have risers we can put in to adjust the sewer lids and when we find them, we can take the manhole cover off, put the rise off and put the manhole cover back on and we’ve fixed the bump. A lot of them are Ameren or AT&T manhole covers and those need to be rebuilt. Typically, those are crumbling down below. If you report a low manhole cover to us at the city through the Citizens Service Bureau at 314-622-4800, we can contact the proper utility and work to get it raised for us.”

“Why are stoplight times so long? Even a quiet street crossing a major thoroughfare gets multiple minutes of green.”

This is the number one kind of question that the St. Louis City Streets Department receives, said Venker. Signal length is not an arbitrary choice.

Venker: “There’s a lot of work and engineering that goes into that. It usually takes until someone sits down with an engineer and they explain how many legs there are in an intersection and that each gets a minimum of 15 seconds. When you add that up, it is sometimes over 60 seconds and people want to know why their wait is so long.

"If you give 15 seconds more green time at intersection X on Forest Park Parkway, you might put two miles of traffic on the Inner Belt. It is a cause and effect."—David Wrone, St. Louis County

“Those are those things that it takes a lot of time. In order to coordinate them, you have to pick your worst intersection first and coordinate for that intersection. That may determine how long the cycle length is for some of those signal corridors. It could be upwards of two minutes to get traffic through these big arterials.”

Wrone: “The problem is the effect that tweaking would have a mile or so down the road. I’ll use Big Bend or Forest Park Parkway as an example—if you give 15 seconds more green time at intersection X on Forest Park Parkway, you might put two miles of traffic on the Inner Belt. It is a cause and effect. It may seem like a simple thing, but it is more complex.”

“Any plans to revamp the merger onto I-64W at Hampton? Why is congestion on I-64 the same after spending millions of dollars on re-design & re-building it?”

Blair: “Anytime our users contact us and say they have a problem, it definitely is a problem them. We listen to our users and try to address them. I-64, we have to remember where it was and where it is today, a massive improvement. Does it still have areas for us to tweak moving forward? Absolutely. A lot of it comes down to funding and priorities. We have other sections of our urban interstate that haven’t been touched. For us to spend more money on the I-64 corridor is a challenge.

“The reconstruction of I-64 was a MoDOT project but it took a team. I-64 at Hampton, we have to grasp the reality that it has been so successful that we have attracted more users than we had when reconstruction began. On average, there’s about 25,000 more users per day on I-64 than there were when we were building. We continue to work with Forest Park partners, the city team on other ways people can get out of the park.”

The number of users per day along sections of I-64 has almost doubled since before reconstruction.

Venker: “That area is tough. Part of I-64 was a real challenge when we had public meetings and the outcry was very clear that they wanted to keep a lot of exits that existed. Normal spacing would give you a mile in between interchanges and we’re looking at three interchanges within a mile. There’s going to be a lot of weaving back and forth.”

Since reconstruction, I-64 right around 170, there are 173,000 vehicles per day in that section. When you move toward the city, it drops to 125,000 and across the river there are 100,000. Those numbers are almost double since before the reconstruction.

 “Why was it necessary to take down the Kingshighway Bridge when the replacement steel and other materials were not ready to replace it?”

  Venker: “Those things are all part of the schedule of building a bridge. In building the bridge, what you haven’t seen is all the work going on underground. All the utility work, the MSD work, that couldn’t be done until the bridge came down has been going on up until now. Over the past week, they’ve started drilling the sub-foundation so that the bridge will start coming out of the ground. All of the steel is ready for that. Unfortunately, that’s part of building the bridge.  There’s a lot of pre-work that goes into building a bridge before it starts coming out of the ground.

“We should have the Kingshighway Bridge open to traffic by January 1 and we’ll complete it next spring.”                                                                                                      

“40/64 seems to be the most ideal corridor for light rail. So many schools, medical, shopping dining, offices, traffic, accidents. Why not?”

Blair: “A lot of this comes down to the almighty dollar. The light rail system now parallels I-64, for the region, it hasn’t decided it wants to make that priority. If we have the money to invest, I don’t see us investing on an east-west corridor that parallels an existing light rail line.

“[Putting a light rail down the center of the highway] can be done, but the problem is, with light rail, where do you want to get on and off at? Do you really want to get off in the middle of the highway?”

“What’s going on with Southwest Avenue at McCausland and Bellevue. It has been torn up over a year and it was only supposed to take a couple of months.”

Venker: “MSD has a lot of work going on in their area with their facilities. They are in the process of doing a lot of replacement work with their sewer system. They’ve run into some issues that were unforeseen. Now that it is open and work still has to be done, they have to fix it.”

Wrone: “My understanding was there was a subterranean mass of rock that wasn’t known until they began the work.”

Venker: “That will cause a lot of delays with their work. We’ve tried to beef up the signal timing on Manchester through Maplewood down to McCausland to adjust for people using that detour. As soon as it gets back open, we’ll all be thankful but we have to remember that we have very old utilities in the area and they need to be replaced.”

“Eatherton Road. Several months ago it was closed due to flooding, a landslide. I know they’ve been working on the road but I’m wondering when it will be reopened.”

Wrone: “We’ve got a design project that will re-stabilize the hillside, our main concern about that issue. Our engineers are worried that an additional slide would put more soil onto the road and create a serious life safety for motorists in that region. We’re still optimistic we’ll have that project underway and the road reopened in late May, early June.”

“I have a question concerning Highway 141 through the Valley Park to Fenton area. That traffic since the highway has been built flows well until you hit Big Bend, where the traffic is at a standstill from 3:30-6 p.m. Why was that area not bypassed when it was rebuilt years ago? Are there any plans to remedy some of that extreme traffic flow?”

Blair: “I’m happy to announce that we have some money, not as much as we’d like, to invest in that area. There is a plan in place. We just recently selected a design-build contract team to come up with some solutions. Will it solve all the problems? No, it won’t, but it will be massive improvement in transportation. We expect that to start later this year. I encourage you to look at our 141 design-build webpage.

More subjects the segment covered: alternative modes of transportation, planning for the future and self-driving cars, consideration of pedestrians and bicycles, and more. Listen here:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.