J-turns replace crossovers on U.S. 63

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:33 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Construction crews work on narrowing the median facing south on Highway 63, north of Highway H on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. The trees lining the median were cleared out earlier in the week.

COLUMBIA — U.S. 63 south of Columbia is taking on a different look and will soon require different driving habits.

Within the next 15 months, the 24,100 drivers who use U.S. 63 between Jefferson City and Columbia each day will see changes beyond the new interchange being built at the Route H turnoff to Columbia Regional Airport.


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So far, drivers have already seen the beginnings of the $9.8 million project. Trees and other foliage are being cut down and cleared in the median along a four-mile stretch north of Route H. This clearing signals significant modifications, including:

  • The existing southbound lanes on U.S. 63 will become a permanent outer road that provides an entrance to the new portion of the highway at the Discovery Ridge interchange, just south of Columbia, and at the new Route H interchange at the airport exit.
  • The 200- to 300-foot-wide median separating the northbound and southbound lanes will be reduced to about 60 feet along the four-mile stretch, and a guard rail will be installed.
  • Crossovers between these lanes will be eliminated at Old Millers Road, South Rolling Hills Road, Missouri 163, Deer Park Road, an unnamed crossover south of Deer Park and a final crossover at Route H.
  • Instead of the crossovers, plans call for building four J-turns — two for each direction — along this stretch for motorists to cross the highway and go the opposite direction.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has posted a YouTube video that shows how J-turns work.

These turns, according to the Department of Transportation website, allow for drivers to enter the highway and merge left into a 700- to 800-foot turn lane. Drivers then pull into the flow of traffic, making a U-turn to change the direction they're going.

J-turns are designed to help eliminate damaging right-angle or T-bone accidents, but transportation officials said the onus remains on the driver to make smart, safe decisions while pulling into oncoming traffic in a 70 mph speed zone.

"With enough traffic, the potential for a crash is always there," said John Miller, a Missouri Department of Transportation traffic safety engineer. "But I'd rather get hit in the rear of my car than in the door."

Drivers will still need to safely gauge the breaks in oncoming traffic, but Miller hopes the J-turns will make it safer for drivers to make those decisions.

"The J-turns are there to help drivers who don't judge gaps well by providing improved access points," Miller said.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, J-Turns reduce conflict points, spots where the paths of two vehicles diverge, merge or cross. A study on J-turn effectiveness conducted in North Carolina found the turns reduced fatal/injury crash rates by 51 percent.

In Missouri, J-turns are located on Route M in Jefferson County, Missouri 13 in McDonald County and the newly constructed section of U.S. 65.

Relocating places for motorists to cross the highway, however, means access points to some of the small businesses along the stretch will be changed.

Richard Bell, an employee of the Deer Park Break Time, is concerned about losing business at the convenience store, as it will be situated about a half mile before the nearest J-turn.

Some commuters don't think it will be worth stopping there anymore.

"I won't stop at that Break Time unless I'm in dire need of gas," said Scott Evans, an attorney in Jefferson City who commutes from Columbia. "No one will. If I need gas, and I'm heading south, I'll go to Ashland."

John Carruthers, another commuter, shared Evans' feelings.

"I go to Break Time two or three times a week for breakfast, but I probably won't go as much after the construction," Carruthers said.

Miller, the traffic safety engineer, said he doesn't think the construction will have an effect on the business.

"It won't be restricting the drivers from accessing Break Time," Miller said. "They'll just have to change their routines a little bit."

During construction of the J-turns next summer, plans call for a northbound lane closure and speed reductions.

Most construction will occur at night though, said Kirsten Munck, who works for the department.

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Corey Parks September 21, 2011 | 8:05 a.m.

Remember how nice it was driving past that area with the tree lined median?

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield September 21, 2011 | 9:09 a.m.

Agreed. It definitely looked nicer with the trees.

(Report Comment)
frank christian September 21, 2011 | 10:07 a.m.

As "good a time" as any to ask of all. We've traveled S. 63 often for 30 years. About 5 - 10 years ago I noticed Spruce trees among the Oaks, Cedars, etc along the right-of- way to the west primarily around Ashland and maybe 10 miles either side.

I didn't think they grew naturally this far south. Am I wrong? Would have MODOT planted them? If so, wonder why. Not an earth shattering question, but can anyone explain why they are there? I don't believe they are seen much further south.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 21, 2011 | 10:57 a.m.

Highways are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

(Apologies to Joyce Kilmer)

Frank, I don't have an answer to your question as regards US 63 but for some years MoDOT has experimented with various trees as windbreaks (snow season) on the north side of US 36. At least one of them, Amur River Privet, isn't even native to North America.

Slightly south of Vichy on the right (west) side of US 63 is a small but impressive stand of tall pine trees. I'm sure they were planted (don't recall them as a student), but they are probably native in the sense that until around 1900 the entire area had stands of those trees.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 21, 2011 | 1:07 p.m.

Regarding the trees:

There are no native spruce in Missouri. Yes, The pines south of Vichy were probably planted but, shortleaf pine is a native to this state and is widespread in the southern portion of the state. That is, however, at the northern extreme of its likely range. Our only other native conifer is the eastern red cedar (not actually a cedar at all -- a juniper). Hence the true name, juniperus virginiana.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 21, 2011 | 3:15 p.m.

Thanks, Louis:

There's an older stand of coniferous trees along MO Hwy 19 south of Salem, Missouri. This is probably how that area looked before the logging companies came in, 1880s to 1920s. According to a source* I have the timber companies cut nearly 1.5 billion board feet of lumber from 375,000 acres of hill slopes, creating erosion problems that can still be seen.

*- Suchard and Kohler, "Two Ozark Rivers, The Current and The Jacks Fork" (University of Missouri Press, 1984). This is a nice book, available at the public library. When it was in print I used to give it as a present to folks from South America who took float trips when visiting us.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum September 22, 2011 | 9:58 p.m.

Oh yes, that area was extensively logged and, being atop the Ozark Plateau (Salem area), that would make it a common area to see lots of shortleaf pine (now that it's been allowed to grow back). Very little of our forests in Missouri are now what would be considered 'old-growth' although some does still exist. People who think deregulation will stimulate the economy have forgotten the lessons we've already learned. The book sounds interesting.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 23, 2011 | 5:31 a.m.

@ Louis Schneebaum:

The book has some excellent color pictures. Suchard took at photos and Kohler wrote the text. I suspect there could be some old(er) growth stands of short leaf pine in Shannon and Reynolds counties.

When I was a student I paid little attention to what the area had to offer, except for float trips; it's only since then that I've come to fully appreciate it.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz September 23, 2011 | 9:52 a.m.

Ellis, my grandfather grew up in the Salem/Bunker area and remarked a couple times how he wished he had bought more land and less moonshine when he was younger.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 23, 2011 | 10:44 a.m.

@ John Schultz:

Liquid assets? High liquidity?

Salem these days, while county seat of Dent County, is best known as the place you go through on your way to/from a float trip.

(Report Comment)

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