The inner-ring suburb of Maplewood has officially weighed in on the proposed South County Connector highway in a big way. In an official letter sent to the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic, Mayor James White vociferously objects to the project's “fundamentally flawed” Draft Environmental Statement (EIS). In seven distinct sections, White tears apart the project in detail, enumerating how the highway plan conceived decades ago is shortsighted and how the Draft EIS fails his community time and time again (be sure to read the full letter below).
The thrust of the letter attacks what the highway project would mean to the community. “Building more roads to accommodate more vehicle traffic is not a transportation alternative, nor does it preserve any sense of community. None of the four corridor alternatives received more than 10% of the first choice responses (in a recent public meeting). Such a low level of support for any build alternative would indicate to a responsible planning agency that the plan and details of the plan are insufficient. It seems that in the case of this project the desires of the public are secondary to vague traffic statistics.”
The detailed takedown is an uncommon and incredibly direct indictment of a major infrastructure project. The South County Connector has wound its way through the regional planning process for more than five decades. Area residents defeated a plan to extend I-170 through the area in the 1990s, yet the zombie highway proposal won't go away. Maplewood is now hoping the idea is given a proper burial and the project does not move forward into a design phase. Doing so would deter any business from locating in the study footprint, the city says, whether or not it is ever funded and built.
Maplewood estimates businesses lost due to right-of-way acquisitions would cost the city $500,000 in revenue each year. White states that business relocation and right-of-way acquisition are also understated and out-of-date. Vacant for a dozen years, a $37M redevelopment of Deer Creek Center has been completed and is now home to retailers Marshalls, JoAnn Fabrics, Buy Buy Baby, and more (with space for 18-20 businesses in all). Maplewood claims the draft plan would require eliminating four businesses in the shopping center and, they say, would void all remaining leases, killing the retail center altogether.
The letter delves into specific planning details as well, focusing one objection on the point at which the Union Pacific Railroad the highway project would intersect. Maplewood took independent measurements of the existing road underpass and found the proposed project simply won’t fit, and certainly not at the $110M project budget proposed. Alternatives are offered, the letter notes, but they could double the project cost , a point that isn’t addressed in the EIS.
Most forcefully, the letter attacks any justification for the project at all:
Relocating traffic: The City of Maplewood questions the wisdom on spending tens of millions of dollars to shift one conflict traffic area to another location. The Draft EIS should explain, comprehensively, all of the foreseen impacts of the project, not only those that are convenient to detail.
Level of Service: (The Draft EIS) indicates that level of service (LOS) on the study area roads will generally not deteriorate and, in some cases, actually improve in the long term if the South County Connector is not built which begs the question, why this roadway is even being considered?
Safety: Moreover, fatal and personal injury accidents in the study area have decreased from 76 incidents in 2007 to 42 incidents in 2010 – a 44.7% decrease. To suggest that the traffic and safety conditions are worsening is illogical.
Fewer residents and miles driven: Accidents are not the only thing decreasing in the study area, local population and the number of vehicle miles driven County-wide are also decreasing.
Transportation choices: Multi-modal transportation concerns in the region are severely lacking, and this project will at best have no meaningful effect and at worse create massive barriers to future progress. We have seen no details nor been given any meaningful assurances that this project would do anything other than bisect and segregate our community further.
We believe that the No Build option was not properly vetted as an alternative and should be reconsidered on the basis that the same amount of funding put into bike and pedestrian improvements in the same footprint would accomplish the same goals of reducing traffic, promoting mass transit use, and improve safety.
The South County Connector project has faced criticism from this site, those interested in regional transportation policy, area residents and others. Trailnet sponsored a public meeting last month at which attendees voiced opposition. The Post-Dispatch quoted several as saying the project is being forced upon them and that they value walking and biking options more than a new roadway. It now appears that the weight of the City of Maplewood is firmly behind them. Whether it’s enough to kill the project, and only time will tell if neighboring municipalities of Shrewsbury, Webster Groves and the City of St. Louis will voice similar opposition.
The Draft EIS will be available for review and comment from May 3, 2013 until July 19, 2013. Written comments on the Draft EIS must be postmarked or received by email or mail no later than Friday, July 19, 2013. Written comments should be submitted to:
Mail: St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic Attention: South County Connector 121 S. Meramec Avenue Clayton, Missouri 63105
Fax: (314) 615-8532