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Missouri’s Innovative Roundabout with Railroad Preemption

Posted on Posted in Insight, Project

With a busy railroad crossing and a history of accidents, an intersection in southwest Missouri was in desperate need of improvements.

The intersection, located in Jasper County at the junction of Missouri Route 171 and Routes YY/96, just northwest of Carl Junction, was particularly dangerous due to its proximity to a railroad crossing and history of semi-trucks high centering at the intersection resulting in trains crashing into trucks. To make matters worse, there was not enough separation to allow trucks at the stop sign while waiting to turn or cross at the intersection without the rear end of their trailers extending across the track. High speeds along Route 171 were also a concern through the intersection.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) had success with other roundabouts in the area and identified the desire to install a roundabout at the intersection to address these concerns.

Roundabouts have a long history of success solving. In fact, the first roundabout was built in Britain dating back to 1907! Modern roundabouts became popular in the United States in the 1990s and have since been installed over 8,000 times in the United States alone.

A roundabout would be straightforward, but the railroad crossing presented a unique challenge, one that GBA was ready to tackle.

As a first step, GBA studied the traffic volumes at the intersection. Approximately 20 trains crossed at the intersection daily traveling at a maximum speed of 55 mph. This resulted in the west leg of the intersection being blocked for nearly one hour each day.

MoDOT wanted a solution that served the community now and into the future. Using the construction year 2021 and design year 2041, factoring in historic growth patterns within the vicinity, traffic volumes on Route 171 were predicted to nearly double within 20 years. Utilizing a SIDRA software program from Australia, a quick stochastic analysis was completed that ensured there would be enough capacity provided within the proposed roundabout to address the predicted increase in traffic volume.  A microsimulation of the intersection operations during a train crossing was performed using VISSIM software.

GBA presented conceptual design recommendations to MoDOT that included:

  • Relocating the center of the roundabout approximately 100 feet east of the existing intersection.
  • Install a 175-foot inscribed circle diameter and 10-foot raised truck apron to accommodate heavy truck traffic.
  • Reduce speeds as vehicles approach the roundabout from 55 mph to 25 mph.
  • Install a westbound right-turn bypass lane.

To stop vehicles from waiting in the roundabout when a train was present, blank-out signs would be installed on two of the roundabout approaches. GBA worked closely with the railroad to provide a preemptive connection between the railroad’s infrastructure and the blank-out signs. The blank-out signs were designed to activate when the railroad lights began flashing (approximately 25 seconds prior to the train entering the intersection) and turn off when the train passed.

Through local public engagement, a detour route was developed for construction that split southbound traffic to Route M and northbound traffic to Route H. By splitting the traffic, head-to-head truck traffic would be avoided.

Construction was completed in December 2021.

For more information, visit MoDOT’s project website at www.modot.org/route-171-intersection-safety-improvements.