ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The second half of a massive rebuilding of Interstate 64 in the St. Louis area will begin before year's end, and officials on Wednesday urged commuters to start planning for it now.
About five miles of the interstate west of St. Louis is currently shut down for construction. That section will reopen and another five-mile section east of the current construction area -- past Brentwood Boulevard to Kingshighway Boulevard -- will close before 2009, though an exact date hasn't been set.
State and city officials gave an update on the project at a luncheon held by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis at the Four Seasons Hotel.
The I-64 Project Director for the Missouri Department of Transportation, Lesley Hoffarth, encouraged drivers to practice alternate routes. "Pick several roads you think will work, and try them," she said.
Tim Embree, assistant to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said the city has spent $52 million and prepared for five years for the project.
The city has connected more than 60 percent of its intersections, mainly roads that are heavily traveled, to a fiber optics communications network, he said. A new traffic operations center allows the street department to make signal and timing changes to improve traffic flow, he said.
The city has made other improvements, like the installation of vehicle detection sensors at certain intersections to let a computer in the traffic signal know when a vehicle is waiting for a green light.
Additionally, he said tow truck teams will rove priority routes in the city to move cars over to side streets when necessary to clear traffic paths.
Embree also encouraged the public to use Metro, the region's light-rail system, and asked employers to consider flex time for workers to reduce travel during peak traffic times.
Officials also noted that the closure of a section of Hampton Avenue, which was shut down in September for several months as part of the project, means a popular entrance to Forest Park is not accessible.
About 12 million people visit Forest Park annually -- the city park that holds the zoo, the art and history museums, the science center and other attractions. Those visitors should be aware that there are nine alternate routes into Forest Park, and new signs in place to help people navigate their way into, and out of, the park.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)