Ground rules and disclaimer

Please feel free to ask questions, express concerns or offer suggestions. MoDOT will make a concerted effort to offer a reply to all reasonable comments to the blog. Comments will be screened by MoDOT, and those comments which do not meet up with MoDOT's blog use policy will not be posted.

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.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Variable Speed Limits – What’s the deal?

MoDOT is currently in a two-year study on the use and effectiveness of Variable Speed Limits (where traffic engineers raise and lower the speed limits based on how fast traffic is moving). Since the project was implemented in May 2008, the department has surveyed drivers and collected speed data. The media is reporting on preliminary findings of that survey (which include the fact that at this point, law enforcement and drivers are not convinced of its effectiveness).

As one of the people sitting in on developing the criteria for the study, I have to admit that this was completely expected. One of the items I hoped to see as part of the study was a change in public opinion through the two-year project. This is a brand-new idea to the St. Louis area -- using variable speeds to manage the volume of traffic flow through congested areas is completely new, and people don’t like change they don’t completely understand.

This early data from this study helps MoDOT determine what it’s doing correctly and what it isn’t. For instance, one of the big areas that drivers and law enforcement both stress is that they don’t believe the public is as informed as they need to be about how variable speed limits work. That’s a great point, and something that MoDOT (and I) need to look at. So – we have a website that talks about how the project works, we have a flyer that we handed out, and we’ve put spots in the media. What else do you suggest? I’ll consider any reasonable request (especially if it’s cheap (since we are a state agency.))