Drivers Sidestep Another Potential Traffic Nightmare

By Leiser, Ken | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Drivers Sidestep Another Potential Traffic Nightmare


Leiser, Ken, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ST. CHARLES * It seems as though any time St. Louis has reason to fear prolonged traffic gridlock, we wind up walking the fine line between prudent planning and papal panic.

We seemed to be weathering our latest brush with potential car- mageddon. MoDOT officials last week praised local drivers for their latest show of resiliency avoiding traffic jams at the Blanchette Bridge.

Missouri is rebuilding the westbound bridge that carries Interstate 70 across the Missouri River, reducing two side-by-side bridges each carrying five lanes of traffic and squeezing all east- west traffic onto one span that carries three lanes each way.

"All the motorists we've asked to change their patterns have done those things," said Ed Hassinger, St. Louis district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. "Really, the traffic has been really good for the six months. We want to encourage people to continue to do that."

If it sounds familiar, it should. Remember when MoDOT shut down a five-mile swath of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) between Ballas Road and Interstate 170 from January 2008 to mid-December of that year? The state went to great lengths to make sure people were informed enough to find other routes around the construction zone. They did. And things generally worked. The same held true when MoDOT shut down the piece of Highway 40 to the east for several more months.

Since then, there have been numerous cases in which sections of Highway 40 were closed farther to the east for interchange work. And major suburban highways, such as Interstate 270 and Highway 40 in Chesterfield, have been closed for very short times, midweek, to do blasting.

So when MoDOT knew St. Louisans would be forced to squeeze onto one span of the Blanchette Bridge, Hassinger said, the department began involving the public and local groups in planning about 18 months ahead of time.

"You can't come in here two months ahead of time and say, 'Here's what we're going to do. Surprise!'" Hassinger said.

Helping matters more was that there were alternate routes available. MoDOT did a lot of work on those too. For instance, the Blanchette project was backed off six months to build a new interchange at Interstate 270 and Page Avenue (Highway 364).

Sure, there was a spike in accidents on I-70, mostly minor, in January and February, said Tom Evers, St. Charles area engineer. But that has tapered off. Still, MoDOT's traffic cameras show people are driving a bit too fast through the narrow lanes.

"There is very little room for error," Evers said.

The outcome certainly could have been different.

Remember more than 14 years ago, when the late Pope John Paul II visited St. …

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