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Monday, August 17, 2015

MoDOT investigates history at base of PSB ramps

MoDOT preservation specialists participate in a study of an area in downtown St. Louis

ST. LOUIS --He’s not Indiana Jones, but he’s MoDOT’s closest thing to it.

     Instead of the distinctive fedora and leather jacket, he jauntily sports a bright yellow hard hat and florescent work vest.
     And fortunately, the most dangerous thing around him is the noise from the nearby trains and the occasional passing tractor trailer truck.
     But like the famed fictional archeologist, Michael Meyer found himself intrigued and excited by history at a young age.
     “I have never grown up – this is something I wanted to do as a kid. I have a job that fascinates and intrigues me. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said.
     Meyer leads a team of preservation specialists for the department who are currently investigating a portion of cleared land between several elevated railroad tracks and the Poplar Street Bridge.  They are preserving a portion of St. Louis history that may be impacted by next year’s construction to widen the ramp from northbound I-55 to the eastbound bridge.
    “What we do is more than archeology – we are tasked to consider how our projects may impact the history the general public wishes to preserve,” said Meyer.
     That “tasking” is due to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  The act instructs organizations involved in construction to consider the impact that work may have on historic areas, such as the downtown St. Louis area.
     In many cases, MoDOT’s historic preservation office works with the design team to adjust projects to avoid an impact to a historic site.  In others, such as this one, where it is impossible to move the bridge or the ramps, the office sets out to investigate and document historical areas to ensure the information is preserved for future  generations and for additional study.
     In the specific area where Meyer and his four person team are investigating – a mid-19th century settler’s home constructed over a mid-18th century French settler.
      “We were able to determine through a records search that a French soldier built a home here in about 1765. Then, about the mid-1860s an American settler built a three story home in about the same location.  We wanted to see what we could find of both homes. This was a very significant historical site and potentially a fragile one. Most of the earth over the site was about one to two feet deep. So, there was a distinct possibility that historical features could be damaged by something as simple as a loaded truck driving over the area,” said Meyer.
      Finding the home from the 1860s was easy, Meyer said. They were able to find clear evidence of the 18th century French soldier’s home as well. French construction at the time used a process called “post-in-earth,” where the builder digs and trench and places vertical walls in that trench – somewhat like a log cabin with vertical logs instead of horizontal. The preservation team was able to locate and identify the distinctive footprint of the “post-in-earth” trenches, despite the challenges the terrain and time have taken.
      Meyer reads the patterns and lines of earth in the dig site like most people read a map. He points out features of the two homes based on a different shade or type of earth that has been uncovered. Most of the time, he is excited about the history that those shades or types of earth represent. That is, until he points to several thick, darker lines of earth that cut across the area that he identifies as looter’s trenches. 
     “That was where collectors dug up the area about six or seven years ago looking for bottles to ‘preserve’ them. About the same time, a historical building was demolished in the area and they probably decided to come here and look for bottles.  They may be preserving history, but are disturbing a much more important historical site to find something commonplace. In doing so, they make it harder to interpret what happened in the past,” Meyer said.
     The team has also found some evidence of prehistoric cultures – mostly chert flakes from tools. Meyer believes that the tools may have been discarded as the hunter-gatherers moved from their settlements in the north to a creek entering the Mississippi River in the south.
     This work complements work done before around the area.  Meyer says the team is creating a database of property around the St. Louis area from the French Colonial time.
     “We have contributed to creating a small picture of the colonial era in St. Louis. We’ve looked at houses, outbuildings and other buildings that give us a broader view of life in colonial St. Louis. Different buildings, different status – merchants, solders and the like which give us a better understanding of life as St. Louis was colonized. This is important because we need to understand where we came from,” said Meyer.
     “Historically, people settle and travel around the area for the same reasons then as we do now.  It’s important to study how people dealt with the same problems in the past – infrastructure, bridges, sewer systems. We make a mistake if we don’t take a look at how people in the past solved the same problems we face.”
     In this case, Meyer hopes that the work that he does will be part of a greater study of the area.
     “It’s a challenge to find something new to build on what we’ve learned before – and it’s exhilarating to find something new that challenges what we thought we knew before.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

MoDOT launches new, improved Gateway Guide

It’s been a long time coming, but the new, improved MoDOT Gateway Guide is here.

Now, like many people, when I hear new and improved, my cynical nature kicks in and I wonder if I am going to be the butt of some cosmic marketing joke where someone added a fragrance to some product just so they can say it's "new and improved." Though adding a scratch and sniff element to the MoDOT Gateway Guide website is an interesting thought – perhaps new car? – there’s more to the website’s improvement than a few cosmetic changes.

The biggest change is to the camera views – right now, all 300 cameras are available for viewing on-line. Although every camera can't be on the home page, users can now select the route they want and see all the available cameras. Viewers have the option of viewing a still image or a 60-second live view updated every two seconds. The map for the camera is zoomable, which makes grabbing the camera icons easier and the new highway snapshots gives users a quick view of all the cameras along one roadway.

Another major change is My STL Traffic. This program will allow you to subscribe to a set of roadways between certain times and on certain days to get information on roadway closures on the routes you take to work, to school or on your day to day activities. You can sign up for either e-mail or text alerts, or view information on your mobile phone. You can also be notified if the roadway is completely closed at any time.

Although behind the scenes, another huge improvement is the web site’s compatibility. The old site was optimized for Internet Explorer, so all the people who liked other web browsers had two choices:

1) Use a browser they didn’t care for, or
2) Use their browser, but lose some significant functions (like the minimal zoom function)

About 35 percent of our users chose the second option, using their browser despite the stilted functioning of the website. That, however, is a thing of the past, as the new Gateway Guide is compatible with the other common, popular browsers.

There’s many other improvements to check out on the updated MoDOT Gateway Guide. The new website is updated to give users a better view of the roadways before, or as, they travel to allow them to avoid congestion. This keeps traffic safer and keeps our air cleaner. We’d love to have you take a look and let us know what you think, or what we might be able to improve. Check out the new website, take our survey and tell us what you think. If it’s been a while since you’ve gone to MoDOT Gateway Guide, please give it another try. It’s new and improved, although without the new car smell.

Andrew Gates
MoDOT Community Relations

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Posting Travel Times on Arterial Routes

I work in a few different locations during the week, and I use the overhead message boards (at least when they have travel times) to at least give me an idea of what I can expect on the roadway ahead.

When I am traveling west on I-70 out of the city in the evening, I can tell if there has been a crash on the road ahead long before I hit the city limits. There's a nice overhead message board that tells me how long I can expect to be on the road if I am heading toward I-270. If I see the sign indicating that it's about 25 minutes to I-270, I know there's some slowdown in traffic ahead. Depending on what other information is available (perhaps an crash location or lanes closed ahead) I can even make an early decision to change my route to something that may be a little longer, but will be faster in the long run.

Now, MoDOT is putting that same technology to work on some of the other major roads in the city. Right now, Route 94 in St. Charles has smaller versions of the message boards active and providing travel times betwen I-70 and Route 40. In the next few months, we'll be installing and turning on similar boards on Route 141 and Lindbergh (Route 67).

MoDOT put these boards up at decision points -- major intersecting highways and river crossings at I-70, Route 364 and Route 40/61. Paying attention to the information these signs provide can help drivers make better choices about which roadways or bridges they want to use.

At the least, it gives them the option to decide if they want to spend some time with their fellow travelers in congestion or choose a different route.

Andrew Gates
MoDOT Community Relations

Friday, July 16, 2010

Flashing Yellow Arrows Work Better

Even as early as kindergarten, I remember reciting the basic traffic rules mantra – “Red means ‘stop,’ green means ‘go.’ Now, although many people, myself included, often believe that yellow means step on the gas, I do still remember the often unmentioned addendum to the mantra – “Yellow means ‘proceed with caution.’

However, paying attention to that mantra was why traffic engineers are starting to embrace the use of the flashing yellow turn signal arrows to let drivers know they can make a yielding left turn. Until recently, most intersections that allowed drivers to turn left in the spaces between on-coming traffic used a round green ball signal with a sign that told drivers to turn left on the green ball. That rule made sense, but it didn’t keep the signals consistent. When the signal was green, you couldn’t “go,” you were supposed to “proceed with caution.”

So as St. Louis started to test these signals (three of them on Olive Boulevard in 2006) and now is installing them in locations around the area (currently, there are a number on Route K in St. Charles county, five more on Olive Boulevard, and a number on Lindbergh Boulevard), the concept made sense to me.

I have seen some comments from local drivers during the introduction of the flashing yellow arrows. They seemed to fall into two categories. 1) people seem to be confused by these signals, and 2) the change is simply because someone wanted to justify their continued existence and adjusted these signals just for the sake of change.

The first part may be somewhat true – as you introduce a new element to the driver, some of them can potentially misinterpret what the flashing yellow arrow means. The second is flat-out wrong. The Federal Highway Administration sponsored a study that showed that the signals were safer, and that more people understood what the flashing yellow arrow meant.
Basically it breaks down this way – the green ball signal with the yield sign is equal to the flashing yellow arrow. The flashing arrow is more intuitive, is safer, and is more consistent with what we teach our youth about traffic signals.

You can find out more information on the flashing yellow arrows at our website. You can also access the Federal Study from that site. We also have a video showing how to drive through a flashing yellow arrow on YouTube.

Andrew Gates
MoDOT Community Relations

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Missouri's largest ARRA project starts

Yesterday, MoDOT and local politicians got together to launch the last section of a project that has been in the works for about 40 years -- the final section of Route 141.

Route 141, between Ladue and Olive Boulevard is still a three lane road (one lane in each direction with a turn lane). Often, during the spring or heavy rainfall, the section of Route 141 there has to be closed due to flooding. Also, anyone who has driven through the area during morning or evening rush hours can expect to be backed up for some time at Parkway Central or as Route 141 goes from a four lane divided highway to a three lane road.

This $44.5 million project is paid for by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money will pull Route 141 above the flood plain and improve the traffic flow on the route. Not only that, but by relocating the new route to the east, a great deal of through traffic from Route 141 (people accessing the Maryland Heights Expressway and Route 364 to St. Charles County) will be removed from a roadway that services two schools, a school bus depot and a number of businesses and subdivisions.

This project will make the roadway safer and move traffic more efficently. Work on the project starts this month and work should be completed by summer 2010.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Saving money, one project at a time

MoDOT has found a silver lining in the dark cloud of the economic decline. The department has seen a decline of revenue in the past year since people are less likely to drive long distances or buy new vehicles. Since the department relies on gas taxes, registration fees and vehicle taxes for funding to maintain and build roads and bridges.

Fortunately, last fiscal year, in St. Louis, the department saved $33 million in its construction budget -- nearly 24 percent of what was budgeted for the year. These savings will be rolled back into other construction projects -- allowing the department to complete more work for you.

One of the more successful methods of reducing costs is what the department calls practical design. This method takes a look at making sure that transportation projects are fixing specific needs, rather than putting in unneeded "frills." Another extensively used method brings contractors into the design process early to let them propose innovative methods to complete the work. So far, we've seen proposals involving alternate materials, varied designs and revised schedules.

All in all, by aggressively managing projects to get them completed on time and under budget, MoDOT continues to try to meet its commitments to the Missouri taxpayers.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Implementing a Travel Safe Zone

Monday, MoDOT implemented a Travel Safe Zone on eastbound I-64 between Mason Road and Ballas Road.

MoDOT implements Travel Safe Zones on those stretches of highway that significantly exceed the number of crashes with fatalities or disabling injuries when compared with similar highways with comparable traffic counts. The department uses a formula to determine a crash rate, based on the length of the stretch of highway, the number of crashes and the daily traffic on that highway.

In this case, there were 443 crashes over the last three years on eastbound I-64 in this area, including 180 crashes in 2008. Of those 443 crashes in the past three years, there were nine major crashes. In those nine major crashes, there were four fatalities and 33 people who received disabling injuries. Additionally, 295 of the 443 crashes were rear-end crashes, primarily during the day when the road was dry and the sky was clear. This tends to indicate excessive speed along the route, or distracted driving.

One of the public concerns we have heard about the Travel Safe Zone is that it is at the request of the local municipalities to increase their revenues. This is completely false – MoDOT initiated the Travel Safe Zone and MoDOT gets NO money from traffic tickets written along state routes. This is truly a safety issue. Our hope is to have people increase their safety awareness in this area, slow down and pay attention.

Currently, this Travel Safe Zone will remain in operation for a year.