Our Opinion: MoDOT slims down, turns to Js and devours smog

News Tribune editorial

Recent pronouncements from the state’s transportation agency have ranged from gratifying to questionable to quirky.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) provided an update last week on its five-year, cost-cutting plan.

MoDOT announced it has saved $177 million toward its goal of saving $512 million by 2015. To date, the agency has eliminated 667 staff positions, closed 23 facilities and disposed of 245 pieces of equipment.

The announcement may be somewhat self-congratulatory, but the progress deserves praise.

On a separate note, we’ll reserve judgment on the first of the new “J-turns” opening on U.S. 54 in Cole County.

The J-turns are designed to replace the admittedly dangerous grade level intersections along that stretch of highway. A preferable alternative, diamond interchanges, are cost-prohibitive at this time.

But J-turns are not without hazards. Essentially, they require exiting onto a deceleration lane from a highway passing lane, negotiating a hairpin turn in a median, accelerating and merging into passing-lane traffic, then traversing from passing lane to cruising lane to deceleration lane. (Schematics on MoDOT’s web site — modot.mo.gov/central — offer a visual illustration.)

The advantage of a J-turn in comparison to a grade-level crossing is the tendency to eliminate broadside collisions.

But side-swipe and rear-end collisions remain distinct possibilities, as do their consequences — overturning and careening off roadways.

The benefits and liabilities of Jturns must be monitored closely.

Finally, MoDOT soon will provide a glimpse of the future when it installs smog-eating concrete along a stretch of roadway.

The agency plans to test a new type of smog-absorbing concrete on a section of Route 141 in St. Louis County. The work is scheduled to begin on Oct. 19.

The concrete contains a photocatalytic additive of titanium dioxide (TIO2), which absorbs smog, uses sunlight to break it down, then releases it as nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Although the additive has been used in Europe, MoDOT officials believe the Missouri project will be the first test in the United States.

If all goes according to plan, perhaps we all can breathe easier.

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