ThrU Turns, flyover ramps and the development of a large gas station on Vance Road in Valley Park sound like needed improvements – but are they?
Former Valley Park Mayor Grant Young, owner of Young’s Restaurant and Ice Creamery, located at 206 Meramec Station Road, said he has experienced problems due to the current improvements. His business is south of Beckett Plaza, which soon will be demolished to make way for a Petro Mart.
Young’s originally opened in 1954 on a site near its current location. It stayed there until 1988, when it moved north to the intersection of Hwy. 141 and the former Maple Avenue, displaced by an earlier phase of Hwy. 141 improvements. In 2002, yet another Hwy. 141 renovation project led to the restaurant moving back to almost the same spot where it began, Young said.
This rendition of Hwy. 141 improvements isn’t requiring Young’s to relocate, but it is requiring drivers to take a new route to the 63-year-old business.
MoDOT upgrades to Hwy. 141 include flyover ramps at Interstate 44 and Hwy. 141, as well as relocating turns onto Marshall Road and Vance Road/Forest Avenue [Forest Avenue continues as Vance Road east of Hwy. 141]. Rather than turning directly onto those roads, drivers now must use “ThrU Turns,” driving past those intersections and looping back around.
According to MoDOT, the $22 million road enhancements are needed to reduce roadway congestion, especially during morning and evening commutes. That congestion led to nearly 1,000 crashes [mostly rear-end collisions] over the past five years. Improving traffic flow by reducing wait time at key signals during peak traffic periods should reduce crashes by nearly 40 percent, officials predict.
Justin Wolf, MoDOT’s deputy director for the Hwy. 141/I-44 design and build project, explained that the ThrU Turns opened in June and are meant to improve left turns to Marshall and Forest/Vance. Wolf said the ThrU Turns are “working very well.”
“The ThrU Turns are giving us an opportunity to give more space for vehicles turning left from northbound 141 to Vance, and from southbound 141 to Forest and Marshall,” Wolf said. “We’re not seeing left turns back up onto the through lanes of traffic, which aids especially northbound flow.”
Young is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“Access into this southwest corner of Marshall and 141 has been changed with use of the two [ThrU] signals, one of which is to our north, and north of Vance, in front of the Valley Park School District campus,” Young said.
“Unlike in the past, when traffic could make a left into my business at 141 and Marshall, northbound traffic coming to my business now has to go past me [to the ThrU turn] and come back south and make a right turn into my property,” he said. “Likewise, when customers leave and want go north on 141, they need to make a right turn across three lanes of traffic to get to the other [ThrU Turn] south of me.”
Young said he holds out hope that, eventually, conditions will improve as construction is completed and as customers get used to the new design.
“It will take time for the traveling public to get used to this road configuration,” Wolf said. “But we canvassed large sections of Valley Park, including putting brochures on doors of residents on Vance, to show how the new intersections operate.
“For years, that corner property at Vance and 141 [where the Petro Mart will go] has been for sale, but, after we started work, the property was purchased and redevelopment is starting. This may be an example of economic development speeding up when we invest in improvements to infrastructure. We’re hoping the new Petro Mart can bring more customers to Young’s and other businesses nearby.”
Marc Pemberton, owner of Economy Car Care Center, located at 26 Meramec Station Road just south of Young’s, said he’s not feeling any effects of the construction work.
“I have tried the [ThrU Turn] several times, and it’s quicker,” Pemberton said. “Going northbound on 141 to make a left into my place, it used to take two to three light cycles before I could turn. Now, I can still keep going straight up and use the U-turn.
“Traffic used to back up northbound with people trying to turn left onto Vance. It would back up past Marshall, and every night, you’d have accidents and hear braking and horns honking. It was dangerous. You don’t see that backup anymore.”
Pemberton said he reminds customers that they need to go a few hundred feet farther north past his business to use the ThrU Turns. “But I’m still busy – I haven’t seen any business drop,” he said.
Pemberton bought Jois Automotive’s equipment and database of customer contacts earlier this year. The new Petro Mart will sit on the combined former sites of Jois Automotive, Beckett Plaza, Cheers Restaurant & Lounge bar, Section 112 Sports Cards and Memorabilia, Like New Shoe Repair and Full Spectrum Tattoo Parlor.“In the past, a lot of people coming down Vance – including me – would cut through Beckett Plaza, which technically isn’t legal, to get to businesses to the south. But the police now are really patrolling heavily and writing tickets,” Pemberton said.
He insisted that “if you’re a good business, people will find a way to get to you, despite a little inconvenience.”
Valley Park Business Association president Tory Catanzaro, who owns Environmental Landscaping, located at 14 Meramec Station Road, agreed.
“I haven’t had other businesses contact me to complain,” Catanzaro said. “I’ve had a couple of deliveries to my business where drivers needed to get used to this new road situation. With road construction and temporary cones, it can be confusing.”
However, he said, recently, MoDOT set out cones marking a future concrete island on a street leading to Hwy. 141 in front of his business.
“My men had to move the cones so a tractor-trailer could get in, and I told MoDOT they can’t block those trailers getting in – so they redesigned the island so any vehicle can drive over it,” Catanzaro said. “I think we need to wait it out and see what MoDOT has when they’re all finished to find out if it all works in the long term. I have no doubt this will alleviate a lot of traffic jams in rush hours. They just need to get it all built and adjust the timing of traffic lights.”
He admitted the new Petro Mart will add more traffic in the area, and he said consideration needs to be given to where entries and exits are placed so as, for example, not to adversely affect Valley Park School District bus traffic.
Valley Park Mayor Mike Pennise said environmental cleanup is now underway on the future Petro Mart site. Hopes are that construction can start within the next couple weeks, with plans for the gas station to open by the end of the year.
“I know some people are worried by the 141 work, but it’s not all the way complete,” Pennise said. He said he has seen no problem with people getting to and from the city’s Meramec Landing Trail Park, on the west side of Hwy. 141 south of Marshall, another area of concern.
Currently, crews are working on various roadway tasks, including constructing the flyover ramps, Wolf said. Additionally, he noted, while flash flooding risk may be improved as a result of better drainage, major flooding like that which occurred in December 2015 and May 2017 will not be prevented as a result of the road improvements.
He admitted that there are still some traffic backups on southbound Hwy. 141 as a result of ongoing construction.
“There will be a bottleneck until the new configuration of 141 and 44 is done, and then drivers will see the full benefit of the improvements, including at Vance/Forest and Marshall roads,” Wolf said. “Now, Vance is backing up due to southbound Hwy. 141 congestion, but that will improve once all the interchange improvements are completed.”
Plans are for all work to be completed by midsummer of 2018.