In 2017, MoDOT, local city leaders and local law enforcement conducted a safety audit along the four-mile stretch of Natural Bridge in the city of St. Louis.
After the safety audit, MoDOT spoke with residents and business owners about their concerns and what their preferences might be for potential solutions.
From the information shared during the focus groups, the department crafted a proposal to improve safety along the corridor.
On January 22, 2020, the department shared their proposal with the public in a public meeting at The Best Place, 5796 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, St. Louis, Missouri, 63112. In addition, they shared information on-line for two weeks.
Construction on 11 signals along the corridor has started. Signals include pedestrian push buttons and pedestrian countdown timers.
Construction on the safety improvements along Natural Bridge started in August 2020 and are expected to be complete in fall 2021.
What is the situation?
MoDOT has awarded more than $5.4 million in projects to make improvements along the Natural Bridge corridor within the city limits. The roadway will get a new driving surface, but the department, after discussing safety along the corridor with the community, is proposing to make several improvements to enhance safety.
How did we get here?
In 2017, MoDOT, local city leaders and local law enforcement conducted a safety audit along the four-mile stretch of Natural Bridge in the city of St. Louis. The audit found that the entire corridor, which carries roughly 16,000 vehicles daily, had a crash rate higher than the state average for similarly traveled roadways, with some sections of the road being significantly higher. These crashes were primarily due to three situations: improper lane use, speeding and pedestrians not crossing roadways at crosswalks.
MoDOT sat down and discussed the issues with the community through focus groups and several meetings; those people shared their concerns and their priorities for improving the safety of the roadway. The department created several public service announcements shared with local media and worked with the city public safety officials to implement a Travel Safe Zone along the corridor with increased enforcement efforts.
Virtual ground breaking
Based on comments from the public meeting held January 22, 2020 and on further discussions with the city of St. Louis staff, here are some updates on the planned improvements along the Natural Bridge corridor within the city limits.
Can you add some aesthetic improvements?
Due to MoDOT’s limited jurisdiction on the roadways, the department has partnered with the city of St. Louis staff for some aesthetic improvements along the corridor – namely in the section of roadway between Fair and Grand. This area will have a grassy median, as will the center of the Vandeventer roundabout, maintained by the city of St. Louis park service.
Can you revisit removing the light at Euclid, as it will impede through traffic at the Euclid and Natural Bridge intersection?
We have reviewed this, and will keep the light at the Euclid and Natural Bridge intersection. It will be updated with detection and an updated pedestrian crossing.
Will emergency vehicles be able to navigate through the roundabouts?
Yes, all of the roundabouts are designed to accommodate emergency vehicles. As with any emergency situation, drivers are expected to pull over to the side of the road in a safe location when an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens approaches. If you are approaching a roundabout when an emergency vehicle approaches, pull onto the shoulder before you enter. If you are in the roundabout when you see an emergency vehicle approaching, pull through and pull off to the shoulder to allow the emergency vehicle to pass.
What are the improvements set to be included in this project?
- A road diet (lane reduction) between Shreve and Parnell/Salisbury. Drivers will have one lane in each direction, with left turn lanes at cross streets. The remainder of the roadway will have a median, with designated places for pedestrians to cross safely.
- Roundabouts at Goodfellow, Vandeventer and the Salisbury and Parnell intersection.
- Mid-block crosswalks with rapid flashing beacons and additional crosswalk lighting in several areas along the corridor.
- Medians at various locations between Shreve and the Salisbury/Parnell intersection.
- Yellow reflective back plates around signals on Natural Bridge
- Higher visibility crosswalk striping.
What are the DBE and workforce goals for this project?
The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program is a federally mandated program administered by MoDOT’s External Civil Rights Division. The program’s overall goal is to provide opportunities to participate in the economic benefits of highway construction to small businesses owned and operated by disadvantaged individuals. For this project, the disadvantaged business enterprise goal is 13 percent; the project has 27.34 percent as of September 28, 2020.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance ( OFCCP) has set unique participation goals for minorities in every geographical area in the United States. The minority workforce goal for St. Louis City is 14.7 percent. For women, OFCCP has set one goal that applies across the country. The current participation goal for women is 6.9%. A contractor must compare actual participation, by trade, to the established goals for women and minorities. Current minority workforce participation (as of September 28, 2020) is 27.6 percent.
Natural Bridge is a commuter corridor into the city. How do these changes benefit commuters?
For the past few years, Natural Bridge has had a higher crash rate than other similar roads with the same amount of traffic. Many of those crashes have involved pedestrians. During a safety analysis of the roadway, many of those crashes can be attributed to high levels of speed, jaywalking and improper lane use. We had several discussions with a select group of business owners, residents and individuals who work and travel through this area. During our discussions, they stressed that their safety, and the safety of the people who live, shop and work along Natural Bridge are paramount. These improvements will maintain a level of service that will keep traffic flowing along the corridor, but will slow down traffic, reduce improper lane use and offer more locations for pedestrians to safely cross the street. Every engineering decision the department makes has an impact on the people who use the roadway – some positive and some negative. The department’s goal, in a situation such as this, is to first, listen to what the community desires, do what it can to meet those needs while balancing the needs of any remaining roadway users. In this case, the top priority for those who live and work along Natural Bridge is slowing down traffic to achieve the posted speed limits and making it safer to travel on, and cross, the roadway. As drivers relearn the new traffic patterns, and as traffic adjusts to the new layout, future adjustments may be considered, as long as they continue to meet the communities’ desires.
None of these improvements are going to be effective without enforcement. Why don’t you start there?
MoDOT doesn’t enforce traffic laws – that is the purview of the law enforcement. Traffic safety rests upon three primary legs – education, engineering and enforcement. Education helps any roadway user understand how the choices that they make can put themselves (or others) at risk. Engineering helps establish as safe a roadway as possible for all users , as long as they use them the way they are supposed to (obeying posted speed limits, obeying signals, crossing at specified and marked locations). Enforcement provides the punishment for those individuals who selfishly or aggressively use the roadway, without paying much attention to the needs or safety of other users. No safety effort will be effective without some attention to all three issues. MoDOT has assisted the community in creating several public service announcements that have run through the media and have been posed within the community as an education effort, Law enforcement has worked with the city and MoDOT to make the stretch of Natural Bridge within the city limits a Travel Safe zone where ticket fines are doubled, as a portion of enforcement. This work will help provide the engineering expertise to help slow traffic and make it safer for residents, workers, owners and customers to get to locations on and along Natural Bridge.
What about a dedicated bike lane, or dedicated lanes for transit?
MoDOT remains a committed partner to including additional multimodal improvements along Natural Bridge in the future. Our primary focus with the current project is to address safety concerns in the short term. Any additional improvements would require more refined planning and engineering to create a roadway design and plan that includes both bicycle and high capacity transit updates (or upgrades) along the corridor. The project is an interim step which will still meet the community’s needs, while adding cost-effective updates that are easy to remove for more permanent solutions.
What are MoDOT’s responsibilities on Natural Bridge?
MoDOT has a maintenance agreement with the city of St. Louis for roads within the city limits. MoDOT is responsible for maintaining signals, signs, striping, sweeping and pavement maintenance on Natural Bridge. St. Louis City retains ownership and responsibility for everything else. For concerns beyond MoDOT’s responsibility, please contact the city of St. Louis citizens service bureau at 314-622-4800.
What is the impact of work?
The construction of the roundabouts will be staged, so certain traffic movements may be restricted or blocked off as the roundabouts are completed. The immediate impact of work between Euclid and Parnell/Salisbury will reduce the roadway from five lanes to three. The actual construction of medians and the remainder of the project should have a minimal additional impact on travel through the area.
What is the timeline for work?
Signal work is currently underway along the corridor. Work started in August and is anticipated to continue through 2021.
Will this interfere with Metrolink expansion or NGA traffic?
Nothing that is being proposed will interfere with any potential expansions for Metrolink or for expected increases in traffic from the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.