© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bad weather actually aided those adjusting to the Highway 40 shift

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Updated 5:40 p.m. Mon., Dec. 15, 2008 - The ice storm some feared would make the "flip" (as the opening of the western half of the Highway 40 project and the closure of the eastern half is called) into a traffic disaster may actually have eased the situation.

With many school closings and some motorists traveling later or not at all, volumes on area roads were lower than usual, MoDOT reported this morning.

And that was a break for drivers who travel Highway 40 east of I-170 who had to find alternate routes for the first time.

Still, just as MoDOT officials feared, many opted to use Forest Park Parkway as an alternate route this morning. The result was a headache for a lot of them as Parkway volumes in the county and the city jumped significantly, MoDOT spokesman Linda Wilson said. MoDOT continues to urge drivers to find a route other than the Parkway.

Given weather forecasts and the holiday weeks ahead, it may be next year before MoDOT and motorists see the real impact of the closing.

"We think that was due to the weather," Wilson said. "A tremendous number of schools were off today. The volumes were way down on all of the roads today."

Motorists also apparently left home later this morning. Normal rush hour usually hits about 6:30 or 7 a.m., Wilson said. Today it was more like 7:45 before things really picked up, she added.

Attorney Ken Alexander used to take Highway 40 from his home in Brentwood to his downtown office. He had planned to make his way over to I-44 and take it to work but this morning he decided to take Manchester to Kingshighway to Highway 40.

That worked out well. "It took just under 30 minutes," he said. He had estimated taking I-44 would add 15 to 20 minutes to his usual 20-minute trip.

"Traffic was light due to the weather and school closings so I'm not sure this will be the route I take every day," he said.

John Newmark also lives in Brentwood and works downtown. "Today, I tried out Forest Park as a route, and it seemed to work pretty well," he said.

Newmark found the "most irritating part of the project the closure of McCutcheon road that runs behind the Galleria.

"It has always been lifesaver in the month of December to get to Clayton Road avoiding the Galleria traffic," he said.

Rachel Slunaker who lives near Page and I-170 and works near Highway 40 and Hampton, used to take the Interstate to Oakland to get to work. Today, she decided to avoid Forest Park. "I just took back roads," she said. "It was very light this morning."

She's still trying to figure out what will be her best bet for getting to work now - I-170 to Eager to Dale all the way through Dogtown, Page to Midland to Delmar to Big Bend to Clayton; I-170 to Forest Park Parkway. "That will probably just get a passing glance, as I'm sure it will be busy," she said.

That's an attitude MoDOT is hoping other drivers will adopt to avoid overloading the Parkway.

"The concern the city and the county has is Forest Park Parkway is nearly full right now and today wasn't even a normal busy day," MoDOT's Wilson said. "We're very concerned that if it was up 15 to 30 percent today on a day when everything else was significantly lighter than normal, volumes could go up when things are 'normal.' "

Wilson suggested drivers consider Manchester, Olive and Page, which were "extremely light" today. She said motorists can find tips and more alternate routes at modot.org. 

"We still think the interstates are going to handle this closure very well just like they did the last one and there'll be a few critical routes it's going to impact," she said.

Story posted Dec. 14, 2008 - As if anticipation of the closure of the eastern half of St. Louis’ main east-west artery weren’t enough for Monday’s rush hour, Mother Nature decided to play her wild card and toss in the threat of an ice storm.

That left motorists who regularly travel Highway 40 (I-64) puzzling even more over what it will be like trying to get around early this week.

While crews restriped the highway over the weekend to divert traffic from the 4.5-mile stretch from Kingshighway to I-170, Soulard resident Terry Moses was scratching his head about what to expect on his Monday commute.

Every workday, Moses drops his wife, Naomi Soule, at her job at Hampton and Arsenal before he gets on Highway 40 for the trip to his job in Clayton. He used to enter the expressway at Hampton but after that entrance was closed several weeks ago, “I now attempt to get on via Oakland (Avenue),” he says.

Moses says he’s “absolutely” worried about the eastern closure. He said he’s heard crews will shut down part of Hanley, making it difficult for him to get to the Clayton Government Center where he works.

“After I drop my wife off I have no good idea how I’m going to get there. I’ve heard McCausland and Skinker are going to be a nightmare. Clayton Road is usually busy anyway. I’m sure it’s going to be worse. They say, ‘Take Manchester.’ Well, OK. How long is that going to take? There are no good surface routes. There’s just different forms of congestion.”

'Mild Annoyance'

While the western half of the closure didn’t bring mayhem, officials are not sure what the eastern closure will bring. With city streets that aren’t as wide as county roads and have more stoplights, they worry the gridlock that didn’t happen earlier this year will happen now. 

Ken Alexander, an attorney who lives in Brentwood and works downtown, was enjoying a walk on the recently completed western end of the Highway 40 project on Sunday. He said he isn’t really worried about the change the eastern closure will bring but it has “been in the back” of his mind for some time.

Alexander used to take Highway 40 downtown but now has plotted a route that will take him over to I-44. He figures the change will add 15 to 20 minutes to his usual 20-minute trip. Donna Springer, a nurse who lives in South St. Louis, works at Forest Park Hospital so she figures the closure will be a “mild annoyance” for her.

She also thinks “most people have been re-adjusting their routes already, due to the Hampton Avenue bridge closure.”

Springer said she uses Highway 40 to go to activities and visit friends. “I guess my travels will be a little slower for a few months. I have adjusted to being without part of 40 from I-170 west,” she said. “I will re-route and allow more time, and hope for the best.”

Rachel Slunaker, who also works in the city, wonders how the eastern closure will affect her. “On a regular day with no road closures, it takes me 25 to 30 minutes to take the back roads to work.”

Slunaker worries alternate routes will be too crowded.“All these people that have been traveling down 170 to 40 East will have to go somewhere,” she said. “I figure Forest Park Parkway will be a mess because now southbound 170 drivers and eastbound 40 drivers (from 270 in to 170) will use it to complete their commute.”

Kelly Krahl lives and works in the city, too, and hasn’t felt much impact from the western closure. But she wonders if she will now.

“With the second leg of the closure beginning, I may be more affected since people will be using alternate routes around the city like Grand, Kingshighway and Delmar,” she said.

Clog at I-170?

With the western closure, Dennis Fleming of Ballwin had to alter his route when he goes downtown. He used to take Highway 141 to Highway 40.

“I've been taking (Interstate) 270 to Ladue Road to (Interstate)170 then north to Delmar and east on Delmar to the Loop area,” he said. The trip that took him 25 minutes a year ago, has taken him 40 to 55 minutes during the western closure.


And while the opening of the western section may help get him to I-170, Fleming frets about other problems. “I'm worried that once 40 is open to 170, traffic from 270 onto 40 and all the previous east bound 40 traffic will clog at 170 and that situation will be the worst part of this two-part project,” he said.

Marlott Rhoads, also of Ballwin, has been taking Highway 141 to get to Interstate 44. He agrees it takes him longer than it did on Highway 40. “It’s a slight nuisance, but mankind is a species of survivors,” he said.

Plus, he thinks the hoopla over the eastern closure may be much ado about nothing. He points to the visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis in 1999 when the local press predicted gridlock would result from all the people coming into St. Louis to see him. It didn’t happen.

“A year ago, the media scared the heck out of us, but overall, the year came and went unnoticed,” he said. “Now they are creating a big deal out of the flip this weekend due to possible rain. Ho hum.”

But Moses of Soulard, who has to drive it every day, isn’t so sure.

“They’re saying you better figure out what route you’re going to take now except the route you’re thinking about is probably going to be populated 10 times as much as when you practice it,” he said.

Kathie Sutin is a freelance journalist.