Ready or not, here come Sikeston's cloverleafs

Martha Throebeck on Tuesday, May 16, 2000

from the making-a-point-in-a-roundabout-way dept.

Our archivist Martha Throebeck found this editorial in the June 15th, 1963 issue of the Sikeston Orthodox-Republican newspaper. It bears a striking resemblance to an editorial published in today's Southeast Missourian...

The state intends to build a cloverleaf interchange -- or freeway-to-freeway eight-ramp junction -- at the new I-57/I-55/US-60 crossing, because it will save money, improve traffic flow, and increase safety. Or so they claim.

Cloverleafs have become quite a buzzword among highway designers and traffic-control planners.

To hear these folks talk, cloverleaf interchanges generate the same reverence and awe that surely must have accompanied the development of asphault paving, stop signs, and billboards that cops hide behind.

But we live in a nation where motorists have been trained to stop at intersections and obey traffic signals. The notion of a cloverleaf interchange, either at low-volume side streets or major interstate crossings, is a tough concept to grasp for most local motorists who have enough trouble figuring out what a yellow light means.

In states where cloverleafs are more widely used -- Pennsylvania is probably the biggest proponent -- they are touted as facilitating traffic and eliminating bottlenecks, particularly in situations where two high-volume freeways come together.

Imagine, if you will, interstate traffic whizzing through an interchange while traffic making 270 degree turns on the cloverleaf ramps blends into the fast-paced flow from speeds as low as 15mph.

Sounds pretty scary, but the Pennsylvania highway department thinks cloverleafs are the best thing since horseless carriages.

Available propaganda about modern interchanges is filled with comments like "Cloverleafs reduce accidents and increase traffic capacity" and "Complex interchanges have gained popularity in the US in the last decade because of their ability to handle a large number of vehicles without forcing them to stop."

OK, but how?

The case for cloverleafs in a land of four-way stops and signal-controlled intersections is difficult to advance, mainly because too many rural Missourians have experienced the nightmare of negotiation a cloverleaf somewhere in a Big City.

Take Sikeston's mayor, Mr. I. B. Fersaille, for example.

Even as he spoke last week in support of the new planned cloverleaf for the I-55 bypass southeast of Sikeston, the mayor provided anecdotal proof of why so many Missourians don't like cloverleafs:

"I got lost on one in St. Louis and wound up in East St. Louis," he said.

A proposal last year for a cloverleaf at the I-55 Crystal City exit south of St. Louis fell by the wayside after a public outcry.

City officials believe that local motorists won't complain since only out-of-state drivers will need to use the new cloverleaf.

But for how long will that last? The state's plan to upgrade surface streets into freeways is bound to create shifts in traffic patterns that will force more people to use cloverleafs.

A key consideration, according to Mayor Fersaille, is cost.

Cloverleafs cost about $300,000 less than a signal-controlled diamond interchange, the state highway department says.

How much would it cost to rebuild it if the cloverleaf proves, in the the next few months or few years, to be unpopular, too confusing, or the cause of more-than-expected accidents? No one has calculated the figure yet.

Warning to motorists: Southeast Missouri officials have been bitten by the cloverleaf bug brought over by clueless highways engineers from back East. You might as well get ready for the I-55 cloverleaf and others as more freeways are constructed or upgraded.

And make sure your auto-insurance premiums are paid up and your aspirin bottles are fully stocked.