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MoDOT Opens Route 21 Ahead of Time

Mon March 23, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

Motorists in Jefferson County, Mo., near St. Louis enjoyed a nice surprise recently when the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) opened a 4-mi. (6.4 km) stretch of Route 21 eight months early.

The new segment from Lake Lorraine Road to Hayden Road is one of several projects to construct a new road to replace the old Route 21, a winding, hilly two-lane road that was considered one of the most dangerous in the state.

Motorists can now access to highway from a new interchange at Old Route 21 near Lake Lorraine and from a new diamond interchange at Hayden Road. Fred Weber Inc. was the contractor on the $25.1 million project which was started in March 2007.

Safety was the driving factor in construction of a new Route 21, Judy Wagner, MoDOT area engineer, said.

The recently opened section replaces a section of the old road that was “two-lane narrow, windy, curvy, hilly,” she said. “There were lots of entrances located in blind areas where people couldn’t see very well to enter the roadway.”

The old Route 21 had a very high crash rate.

“It was above the state average for any route similar to it,” Wagner said. In fact, during one recent year a segment of it had the most fatalities of any other road in the state, she added.

An increase in road usage, combined with the topography of the area, contributed to the safety problems, Wagner said.

“The volumes on that route were over 14,000 cars a day so a lot of crashes were occurring — cross-overs as well as run-off-the-road crashes,” she said. “And a lot of them were because the number of entrances that came in and out of that highway and the geometrics of the existing highway. It was so hilly and so curvy.”

Hillsboro, the county seat of Jefferson County, has seen a lot of population growth in recent years resulting in more vehicles on Highway 21.

“There’s just a lot of people living out there,” Wagner said. “Route 21 pulls people all the way from Washington County, Potosi, Richwoods, that whole big area south of there as well as all the area in Jefferson County. There are a lot of people that live around that area that work in St. Louis and (Highway) 21 is the only route that takes them up to here. It’s probably the furthest area that people live and still commute to St. Louis.”

To complete the project so far ahead of schedule, during the peak excavation time the prime contractor had 20 workers per shift working on two 12-hour shifts to do the excavation and fill work.

Wagner credited Weber’s good planning and extended shifts with getting the job done early.

“By the coordination done by Fred Weber, their contractors and the resources that they have available, they were able to work two 10 or 12-hour shifts while the weather was good,” she said. “That got them down to a point where they were just excavating rock so they could do that all winter long when the weather wasn’t ideal. “

The contractor also brought in a rock crusher to facilitate work on the project.

“They could use a lot of the materials from to build those fills so they actually brought in a rock crusher so they could crush the aggregate and utilize that as part of the fill,” Wagner added.

Crews moved some 1,769,500 cu. yds. (1,352,880 cu m) of dirt and rock on the project and placed 147,000 sq. yds. (122,910 sq m) of 8-in. (20 cm) concrete pavement and 4,100 tons (3,700 t) of asphalt.

The new road is four-lane, limited access highway.

“There are no longer any entrances or driveways,” Wagner said. “There are only on-ramps and off-ramps. The geometrics of the route are very conducive to an Interstate-style road with no substandard hills or curves.”

The project was built using funds from $1.7 billion in bonds voters approved in November 2004 under Amendment 3. Soon after its passage, MoDOT launched a three-pronged plan, nicknamed “Smoother, Safer, Sooner” to fix many of the state’s deteriorating roads.

But motorists reminiscing for the roller coaster-like old Highway 21 can still use it, Wagner said. MoDOT will resurface the old Highway 21 in the next couple of months and then it will become a county road, she added.

The new Highway 21 now ends at Route B where motorists exit the new road via the southbound exit ramp and cross over Route B and enter the old Highway 21 to continue driving south.

Highway 21 has a long history of construction work.

“We’ve been working on the project since the early 80s — further north in the [Route] 141 area and in Fenton,” Wagner said.

A 2-mi. (3.2 km) section of the highway from 2 mi. south of Route MM to Schenk Road was completed in 1992 and the segment from Schenk Road to Lake Lorraine Road was completed in 2003. Another segment — from Route A to Route B — was completed in 2005.

The final stretch of the new Route 21 would be from Route B just south of Hillsboro down to DeSoto. But that won’t be happening soon, Wagner said.

“We don’t have the right-of-way,” she said. “Right now it’s on a plan that’s out beyond 2030.

Equipment used on the recently completed project includes Caterpillar D8 and D10 dozers, rock drills, John Deere 710 backhoes, track-hoes, scrapers, compactors, skid steers, concrete and asphalt pavers, asphalt rollers, a hydro seeder and a pavement striper.

The equipment was used to excavate dirt and rock, break the rock to become ditch liner material and the 18-in. (45.7 cm) fill base and place the material in fill areas. It also was used to lay concrete and asphalt, seed the slopes and stripe the pavement.

Fred Weber Inc. used mainly its own equipment from Fabick (Caterpillar) and Erb Equipment (John Deere) to do the work on the project.

Also working on the project were subcontractors Traffic Control Inc., which performed traffic control work, Thomas Industrial Coatings which painted the steel girders on the bridge painting, and Plattin Creek Excavating, which cleared trees and demoed the houses on the site.

Tramar Contracting Inc. provided erosion control and Park-Mark Inc. marked the pavement. Gerstner Electric Inc. installed the highway lighting and D&S Fence Co. did the highway signs and guardrail items with Schrimpf Landscaping Inc. seeding the slopes.

“The major challenge on Route 21 was the terrain of the area where we were building the new highway,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of steep hills that had to be cut and areas that had to be filled. There was just the massiveness of building four miles of pretty much flat highway through that kind of terrain.”

Traffic during construction did not pose much of a problem, Wagner said.

“The other good about building this road was as we were building the new highway, the old highway remained in place so we had the traffic on the old highway,” she said. “We built the new one pretty much completely independent of the existing highway.” CEG

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