Posts Tagged ‘Route 67’

Today the NWS gave us bad news and confirmed that the Mississippi River at Alton will go past the 29 foot threshold as early as Monday.  The bad news when the river hits that point is that the southbound lanes of 367 just south of the Clark Bridge start to flood and that usually renders the southbound direction of the Clark Bridge off limits.alton-apr30at1700

The projected crest is on Wednesday at or around the 33 foot mark.

Based on an recent MoDOT press conference held this evening, the NB lanes of 367 will be converted into two-way traffic and that will help with the heavier than normal traffic on this section of 270. However, this also means that there will be delays in both the AM and PM peak starting Monday afternoon and lasting likely through the end of the week. Either way, traffic on 270 will be heavier than normal for a few days, the canal bridge area is a known choke point, and plan on delays on both the Clark Bridge and the Chain of Rocks.

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MoDOT has announced lane restrictions on 367 north of the Missouri River that will begin tomorrow, weather permitting.  There is no exact reason why the lane restrictions are being given but they are bold enough to start the southbound lane restriction during the 07:00 hour.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of one of the biggest epic fails when it comes to the Clark Bridge commute – and a record setting traffic jam on eastbound 270 that allegedly lasted 20 miles and went into a Saturday morning.

trafficnightmare1997

The Alton Telegraph front page from March 1, 1997

If you have been wondering why February 28, 1997 is not on the notable incidents list, that front page is a good explanation why.  The incident actually happened on Route 143 where it meets the Clark Bridge and happened at the stoplight.  How come it lead to a traffic nightmare on 270, a delay of a high school basketball game between the two biggest rivals, and a long evening for thousands of Riverbend residents?

There were several factors that came into play that afternoon:

  • Incident happened around 14:30, right before the start of the evening peak period.
  • It was a Friday afternoon, typically the busiest day of the week on 270.
  • That infamous construction project on 270 between Lilac and 255 was underway where one mainline lane was closed, a second mainline lane was being used as a “reversible lane” that only went eastbound during a 5 hour time window during week days.  This construction zone by itself was a traffic nightmare during the peak periods and for several months the Friday evening peak was a horror show regardless of the weather.  Incidents that happened in the construction zone happened almost every day, especially in the area near Route 111 and again near Route 3.  If that wasn’t bad enough, there were 8’6″ width restriction for the river bridge and a legal weight restriction.
  • There was another road construction project underway in North County on I-70.
  • 255 was not open north of 270.  (That would not occur for another 18 months.)
  • 270 still had the left exit at 170.  The section of 270 between 370 and New Florissant was a notorious choke point during the peak hour back then and it is still is twenty years later.
  • 367 was still in its very infamous configuration north of 270.

The incident happened when a tanker truck allegedly took the right turn from Landmarks to the southbound lanes of the Clark Bridge too fast and overturns.  The nature of the tanker truck forced the emergency crews no choice but to close the Clark Bridge in both directions (note the incident actually didn’t happen on the bridge), Route 143 from Route 3 to the Clark Bridge, and sections of 140 and 67.  367 remained open until the Fisca station but that is where people were being forced to turn around and return to 270.

How come the epic traffic jam formed on 270?  First of all, the Clark Bridge is the main alternate route when it comes to this section of 270.  Locals will use that bridge as an first choice alternate before any other bridge.  Conversely, when the Clark Bridge got closed for any reason the first choice alternate to those locals in the Riverbend was 270.  Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, closures on the Clark Bridge were common as the old bridge was still in use and almost every school district in the Riverbend mandated the school buses going into North County take 270.  While the new bridge put the end of a lot of those closures, the southbound lanes were still prone to flooding, there was an epic fail on 270 in 1994 that forced all traffic through Alton for days, and the consequences that occur when you couldn’t take 367 out of Alton were still fresh on the locals minds.

270 up in North County and in Illinois was a major trucking corridor, and while none of the distribution center buildings were built at the time of this incident, it was an common fact that at least 20-25% of the traffic was truck traffic.  Despite the construction, width limits, and weight limits, truckers decided that 270 through North County was a much better route than 70 through the City of St. Louis and decided to take the gamble.

The moment that the incident went around the radio stations, it was clear that anyone that normally went 270 across the infamous “Bridges of Madison County” were blurting out a lot of choice words.  This incident came at a time where there was no social media, cell phones did not have cameras, and text messaging was unheard of.

Westbound 270 would back up from 255 to Lilac, which was not an unusual sight on a Friday afternoon back in 1997.  What was unusual was that it went into the night.  The westbound drivers actually had it easy that night.  What about eastbound traffic?  It was the normal delay that happened between Dorsett and 70 and again from 370 to New Florissant.  Those delays were not unusual and started to occur at their usual times.  What wasn’t usual: the delay that went from New Florissant to 255, and to an lesser extent, the delay between 70 and 370.  There was an obvious traffic jam approaching Lilac, and past that point traffic went much slower than normal with a big choke point at Route 3.  The traffic jam across the river bridge was going strong even at midnight, which was very unusual even with the construction project underway.

The so called reversible lane?  Unless you were on 270 before Lilac and had no intention of exiting the mainline prior to Route 157, that lane was as good as useless and having an fail in that lane rendered you SOL.  In fact, it was set to westbound by default and unless it was a 5 hour window from Monday-Friday afternoon, all you had was a single eastbound lane.  All the problems in that construction zone were so bad that a state legislator from a neighboring district went out of the way to demand traffic cameras to be installed along the 270 mainline, media coverage of all the incidents was a common occurrence, and the locals knew to use the back roads.

Thus, there were choke points at Route 3 and 111 during this mess as the people were trying to get back into the Riverbend.  255 was NOT OPEN north of 270 when this happened, 111 was still a 2 lane road, and there were a lack of east-west alternate routes in this area on both sides of the river.

About the traffic nightmare in the Riverbend itself?  For several weeks prior to the accident, there were radio personalities on at least two stations bragging about Fast Eddies, and in fact there was a radio ad for that restaurant in Alton that bragged about the new Clark Bridge as the “Fast Eddies” bridge.  Being a Friday night, it was certain that a live band with a well known local reputation was playing at that bar and the locals were going to show up.  With 143 suddenly off limits west of Route 3, the traffic overloaded Route 3 and Broadway into downtown Alton, and College Avenue leading towards Alton High School.  There was an high school basketball game that night at Alton against one of their biggest conference rivals, it was senior night there, and a conference title was at stake.  The traffic jam caused the game to be delayed because their rival couldn’t navigate the traffic jam on 143 and take the back way into the the gymnasium.

What counter measures came from the incident?  Actually none came from it as it as passed off as a fluke.  It would take another fatal accident in North County two years later to force a change on 270 at 170.  The construction project reversible lane tactic has not been used since, at least in the St. Louis area.  It took another epic fail on 270 before the right turn lane from Landmarks to the southbound Clark Bridge got modified.  The only true countermeasure was the change of how the radio ads were made by Fast Eddies, as the bragging came to a stop soon after this incident.  Crowd control tactics from MoDOT and IDOT would improve over a period of time but that didn’t happen overnight.

And what about the weather:  not a cloud in the sky with temperatures around 50.  It was clearly not a factor for this epic fail.  The epic fail in question was not cleared until 2 in the morning the following day.

IDOT announced lane closures for 270 at the canal bridge for June 13-14, weather permitting:

  • June 13, westbound right lane, 09:00 to 15:00
  • June 14, eastbound right lane, 08:00 to 15:00

It seems that they are bold enough to close lanes on the Clark Bridge for bridge inspections at the same time, as they also announced that as well:

  • June 13 and 14 – southbound – 09:00 to 15:00
  • June 15 and 16 – northbound – 08:00 to 15:00

There are also lane restrictions on Route 143 from Route 3 to Route 140 right now due to unrelated work.

There will be major delays and it will not be a good time to have an epic fail happen.

The weather is also heating up and there were at least three tire blowouts on the river bridge just last week alone.  The lights were out last week but that has since been fixed.  Please drive with extreme caution.