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Missouri DOT Improves Safety on Route 171 in Jasper County

by: Larry Bernstein
A John Deere 750 Dozer levels a section of Route 171 to make way for safety improvements in the area.
A John Deere 750 Dozer levels a section of Route 171 to make way for safety improvements in the area.
Route 171 is one of the main routes that runs through Jasper County, which is located in southwest Missouri. This is the site of a current project, known as the Route 171 intersection safety improvements, by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

Dual needs – safety and traffic volumes – are inspiring this project. These needs were identified by MoDOT and then placed on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The annually prepared report sets forth the specific construction projects MoDOT will undertake in the next five years.

A recent traffic count found that approximately 7,900 vehicles use this route daily. MoDOT projections show that will increase over the next 20 years to around 14,300 vehicles. The local airport is also seeing improvements as more transportation and traffic in the area is expected. Northwest of the project area has been seeing population growth.

Then, there’s the safety aspect. “There is the potential for severe crashes at this location,” says Mavin Morris, MoDOT’s Resident Engineer on the project. The intersection includes Route 171 and Route 96 and a train track. The severe crashes could come from trains striking stopped vehicles. “In addition, we want to decrease high-speed right-angle crashes at the Missouri Route 171 and Missouri Route 96 intersection.”

Adjusting Intersections
Currently, there’s a right-angle intersection that has two-way stop control. MoDOT is shifting this intersection, which includes Route 171, Route 96, and Route YY, slightly east and away from the Kansas City Southern railroad.

“Vehicles, especially large semis and farm equipment, approaching from the west on Jasper County Route YY often must sit across the railroad tracks while waiting for a gap in traffic on Route 171, causing a significant safety concern for both the traveling public and KCS trains,” MoDOT said in a news release. “The project will increase the space between the railroad tracks and Route 171, improving safety.”

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The intersection will be converted to a multi-lane roundabout - two 16-foot lanes with a 10-foot truck apron. The roundabout entry will consist of one or two lanes varying from 12 feet to 16 feet with a 4-foot outside shoulder – the typical shoulder width to retrofit an existing major route highway.

MoDOT will install additional safety items for the roundabout and the westbound leg crossing the railroad tracks including signals, LED lighting, and signs. The signs will be interactive and are tied to the railroad. It’s expected that the signs will keep cars from getting stuck on the railroad leading to a potentially dangerous situation.

Site Surprises
While excavating dirt, the team ran into a surprise. “There were unexpected field conditions,” Morris says. Specifically, the team realized that the pond off the southeast quadrant of the project drains into the worksite. This made for unsuitable subgrade material.

To resolve that, a team was formed utilizing the district geologist, Central Office geologist, contractors, and consultants to evaluate the field conditions and redesign the subgrade.

“We had to excavate until we got to clay,” Morris says. He estimates the team had to dig 2 to 3 feet down. The team moved the pipes, which were carrying the water from the pond and put in new box culverts underground to drain the water away. They then had to build the area back with materials that were suitable for building and compacting.

Staying On Schedule
The total contract for the project was approximately $7.5 million. The project was let in combination with multiple jobs, including resurfacing approximately 26 miles of Route 171 and resurfacing and adding shoulders at various locations along two other minor routes.

Funding for the project is through the typical combination of state and federal funds. In this case, the split is approximately 80 percent federal (National Highway Performance funds) and 20 percent Missouri highway funds. There also is some money from Federal Surface Transportation Rail funds and some from the Missouri Grade Crossing Safety Account.

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To date, the project is on budget concerning the items as originally bid. However, it’s anticipated that there will be additional costs due to the subgrade redesign.

The contract completion date is mid-December, yet Morris anticipates completing the project before the contract date. He credits the contractor, APAC Central, Inc. – who was the low bidder among the qualified applicants – for the early completion.

“The keys to staying on schedule include partnering closely with the contractor to identify needs and challenges early so those issues can be addressed quickly,” Morris says. “When challenges arise, like the field conditions that result in a redesign, you have to find a solution, and then, you have negotiate with the contractor.” APAC Central worked with Morris and MoDOT, and they were able to find a way to keep the project on schedule. To make this happen, both sides had to be flexible.

When the Route 171 intersection safety improvements are complete, the intersection improvement will provide drivers with a safe and efficient highway on which to travel. The redesigned intersection will decrease the potential for high severity crashes along with increasing the intersection’s capacity to handle traffic and minimizing delays.

Motorists approaching the intersection from the west will benefit from an added advance alert notification system at the intersection with the railroad alerting traffic via blank-out signs about approaching trains. Additionally, the intersection’s visibility will be increased by new lighting and high visibility signs.

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All this means MoDOT’s number one goal of improving safety will be accomplished.

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