JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's rural highways, while scenic, carry unique safety challenges. Crashes are more likely to occur at higher speeds, the vehicle occupants are more likely to be unbelted and accident victims are further away from medical help.
To help combat those issues, the Missouri Department of Transportation will be using an $800,000 federal grant to install six additional electronic message boards and 12 closed circuit television cameras in south central and southeast Missouri. The new equipment will be installed in areas with high traffic volumes and incident rates.
Missouri is the first state in the nation to award a project that will use federal grant funds provided through the Rural Safety Innovation Program. To take advantage of these funds, states were encouraged to use technology to make rural roads safer. They also had to act quickly because the money had to be obligated during the current federal fiscal year.
The permanent signs, along with the cameras, will be installed along Interstates 55 and 57 and Route 60 to inform motorists about road closings, accidents and hazardous road conditions. MoDOT staff will use the cameras, which provide real-time traffic video, to monitor traffic flow and manage incidents on the roadways. This tool will provide valuable visual support to operators who assist in managing incidents and monitoring traffic flow. It will enable them to verify an incident and instantly send an alert to the appropriate message boards, such as "Accident ahead. Be prepared to stop."
The signs are located where they're easy to see and near exits so travelers can decide to get off the highway if traffic is backed up. Messages can be changed instantaneously with the push of a computer button.
The project completion date is set for Dec. 1. The six signs erected under this contract will bring the total number of rural message boards throughout the state to 66. This is one of three contracts this year that will include installation of closed circuit television cameras. This project includes 12 of a total of 68 cameras to be installed along the rural interstate.
"We've seen the safety benefits of getting timely travel information to motorists with these signs, so we were thrilled to get additional funding to install more cameras and message boards," said Don Hillis, MoDOT's director of system management.
Because the Delta Region Authority provided much of the grant funding, the winning projects had to be located within the authority's boundaries. The authority is a federal-state partnership that serves 252 counties and parishes in parts of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
While rural roads carry less than half of America's traffic, they account for more than half of the nation's vehicular deaths. Last February, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched the Rural Safety Initiative to address this issue. The Rural Safety Innovation Program grants are part of that initiative.
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Editor's note: Here are the locations where the six new message boards will be erected.
I-55 (mile marker 16.60) Pemiscot
I-57 (mile marker 17.20) Mississippi
US 60/US 67 Butler
US 60/Rt. 34 Butler
US 60/US 63S Texas
US 60/US 63N Texas