Beware of gators on St. Louis highways. They're in season.
We're not talking about snarling, snapping swamp dwellers. No, these "gators" — as some know them — are the remnants of blown-out tractor-trailer or car tires that litter highway lanes and medians when temperatures begin to soar.
"Whenever we get into the really hot part of the summer, that is when we get quite a bit more of it," said Beth Wright, state maintenance engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Because picking up these tattered treads by hand can be a slow — and potentially dangerous — process, MoDOT has purchased truck-mounted, debris-removal devices known as "Gator Getters."
It's safer because the rotating Gator Getter drum scoops up debris without someone having to set foot in a traffic lane. It is less likely to slow traffic because the device — which is about the width of a snow plow — allows the truck to travel at 50 to 55 mph.
It also takes only one truck instead of the three typically assigned to debris removal. (Two extra trucks normally act as buffers between the debris removal crew and other highway drivers.) The cleanup often requires closing a lane for short stretches.
Walter M. "Gator" Hopkins said the Gator Getter was designed with employee safety in mind.
"There has to be better ways to pick up road debris and not just do it the old-fashioned way," Hopkins said.
Tire remnants pose multiple dangers, Hopkins said. They are dangerous to the truck driver when they come off the wheel. They are an environmental hazard. They endanger other motorists who happen upon them. And it is a hazard to the worker who has to remove it.
Becky Allmeroth, MoDOT's maintenance engineer for the St. Louis district, said you may see Gator Getters on local highways as soon as this week. St. Louis-based maintenance crews picked theirs up last week.
You most likely will see them on the interstates where — because of heavy commercial truck traffic — old treads are more likely to congregate. Allmeroth said the device also can pick up roadkill as large as a deer.
MoDOT discourages motorists from taking matters into their own hands to remove highway debris. Allmeroth urged motorists to call 1-888-ASK-MODOT (1-888 275 6636) to report something in a lane.
Removing debris from the road is always a high MoDOT priority, Wright said.
"Any debris is an undesirable situation," Wright said. "Sometimes things can get picked up and thrown by other vehicles." You also have people trying to swerve to avoid objects. And, of course, there are sometimes severe consequences of hitting road debris.
AIRPORT PARKING HELP
Lambert officials said last week that travelers can soon expect a couple of new touches to ease the hassle of parking at the St. Louis airport.
In the next few months, the SuperPark operation will have "ambassadors" work with customers at parking lots and garages.
As soon as early July, you will see a new feature on the superparkinglot.com website. The site will feature icons showing how full the parking lots and garages are at Lambert.
Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said the new feature will involve counting cars every night at midnight. Then, as cars enter and exit the parking facilities, the capacity will be adjusted throughout the day — at five-minute intervals.
BEST FROM THE BLOG
St. Louis County crews will close short sections of Kehrs Mill Road south of Wildhorse Creek Road and Wildhorse Creek east of Kehrs Mill beginning Friday.
The closures will remain in effect until July 14 and are expected to cause substantial traffic congestion. Crews will be replacing a box culvert at the intersection and performing other work associated with the county's $8.4 million realignment of Kehrs Mill, Wildhorse Creek and Long roads.
About 9,000 cars and trucks each day use the intersection at Kehrs Mill and Wildhorse Creek roads, said David Wrone of the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic.
There are two major detour routes.
Drivers who would normally travel north on Kehrs Mill will have to take Kehrs Mill south to Clarkson Road, then turn left to reach Baxter Road and take it to either Edison Avenue or Chesterfield Airport Road.
During the closure, eastbound Wildhorse Creek drivers will have to turn left on Long Road as they approach Kehrs Mill.
County officials urge drivers to alter their travel times to avoid potentially heavy traffic at Clarkson and Kehrs Mill.