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8 answers about St. Louis' roadway construction and traffic issues

Cars drive east on Interstate 64 on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Since St. Louis Public Radio launched its Curious Louis series in 2015, we’ve received plenty of questions/musings/cries for answers regarding the region's highways, byways and roadways.

Since St. Louis Public Radio launched its Curious Louis series in 2015, we’ve received plenty of questions/musings/cries for answers regarding the region's highways, byways and roadways.

Representatives from the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Missouri Department of Transportation joined St. Louis on the Air to answer these listener questions:

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

"What I found out is that they typically need to be reconstructed," said St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker. She said the city water department and Metropolitan Sewer District "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, Venker said, adding that signal length is not an arbitrary choice.

“There’s a lot of work and engineering that goes into that," she said. "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."

David Wrone, spokesperson for the St. Louis County departments of transportation and public works departments, said one challenge is determining how changes to one intersection affects other nearby intersections.

"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 [I-170] Inner Belt," Wrone said. "It is a cause and effect. It may seem like a simple thing, but it is more complex.”

“Are there plans to revamp the merger onto westbound I-64 at Hampton? Why is congestion on I-64 the same after spending millions of dollars on redesigning and rebuilding it?”

“Anytime our users contact us and say they have a problem, it definitely is a problem for them," said Tom Blair, Assistant District Engineer, Missouri Department of Transportation. "With 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."

Regarding the changes made to I-64 at Hampton, Blair said “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.”

Venker said residents made it clear during public meetings that they wanted to keep a lot of exits that existed along I-64. "Normal spacing would give you a mile in between interchanges and we’re looking at three interchanges within a mile, Venker said. "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?”

“Those things are all part of the schedule of building a bridge, " Venker said. "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, [2017] 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?”

“A lot of this comes down to the almighty dollar," Blair said. The light rail system now parallels I-64. The region hasn’t decided it wants to make an extension along the interstate a priority, he said. "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?” Blair said.

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

“MSD has a lot of work going on in their area with their facilities," Venker said. "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 said: “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 said: “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 in this program include alternative modes of transportation, planning for the future and self-driving cars and consideration of pedestrians and bicycles.

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. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.