4 of 5 Arch Competition Design Teams Recommend Highway Removal

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“We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s Landing be removed.” – Behnisch

After you get a full serving of architecture eye-candy and you begin to look at what the five final Arch competition design teams have planned for St. Louis, you’ll see something very exciting. Four of the five design teams identify I-70 removal as the best long-term solution to reconnect the city to the Arch and river. While prevented by the October 2015 deadline from including I-70 removal in an initial phase, Behnisch, SOM-Hargreaves-BIG, Weiss-Manfredi and MVVA acknowledged City to River and present support for the boulevard concept.

“City to River articulates an enormous number of benefits arising from such a scheme…” –  SOM-Hargreaves-BIG

In some ways it seems obvious. Yes, removing I-70 would remove the most significant barrier between the city, Arch and river. It’s the barrier that defines the visitor experience. A one, or even three-block lid doesn’t fix the experience for everyone and especially not for the residential community, Convention Center and Rams fans using Washington Avenue to access the Arch and riverfront. It also doesn’t directly connect the millions of Cardinals fans to the Arch.

The challenge of the competition was to “create an iconic place for the international icon, the Gateway Arch.” Leaving I-70 in place allows only for the possible creation of an “iconic moment,” a signature view and limited experience. No matter how inviting, it is an incomplete vision. Creating an “iconic place” is a bigger challenge than is allowed by a 2015 deadline. City to River, its supporters and the design teams recognize this challenge.

“..the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear…” –  MVVA

Designs teams have acknowledged the difficulties presented by highway removal. MVVA states, “We have proposed a one-block overpass, rather than an at-grade boulevard, because it is less expensive, easier to achieve by 2015, and would require fewer jurisdictional and regulatory negotiations. But the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear, and we have purposely created a proposal that is compatible with either solution.”

Behnisch was possibly even more direct. “We are interested in people driving into town, parking and walking. No longer will we allow high-speed through traffic imperiling people walking and their quality of life. Our plan sees Downtown as a destination, not a way-station. … In the short term, we know that these types of projects are fraught with political peril. … Our team will produce predictive models so that we know we a) minimize disruptions, and b) minimize political heartburn. We know, however, that people are smart, adaptive, and respond to positive change positively. … We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s Landing be removed.”

“Full Circle’s grand loop of transportation facilities could be easily integrated into its [City to River’s] design.” – Weiss-Manfredi

An effort that was begun by City to River and continues to gain endorsements and support is now the stated preference of the majority of world-class design firms engaged in re-imagining our city and riverfront. A broad and clear consensus is emerging. The challenge now is to continue moving forward, to take the next step and then the next to make highway removal a reality.

Additional statements from design team submissions:

Behnisch:
“Perhaps the most important concurrent development to this project is the
construction of the new bridge over the Mississippi River…The new bridge creates redundancy in the network.

We are interested in people driving into town, parking and walking. No longer will we allow high-speed through traffic imperiling people walking and their quality of life. Our plan sees Downtown as a destination, not a way-station.

In the short term, we know that these types of projects are fraught with political peril. The driving public is understandably wary of change, especially anything that adds uncertainty to their commutes. Our team will produce predictive models so that we know we a) minimize disruptions, and b) minimize political heartburn. We know, however, that people are smart, adaptive, and respond to positive change positively.

We predict fanfare should the elevated highway that cuts off Laclede’s
Landing be removed.”

SOM-Hargreaves-BIG Team:
“North of the Gateway Arch, plans are underway for a new interstate connection over the
Mississippi River that will become a portion of the rerouted I-70.

Bearing this in mind, the design team supports the efforts put forth by City to River in advocating for the removal of I-70 between Cass Avenue and the Poplar Street Bridge, and its subsequent replacement with an at-grade signature boulevard to better connect the city to the river. City to River articulates an enormous number of benefits arising from such a scheme:

• Connectivity: A boulevard will connect the city, the river, and key downtown destinations, thus improving access for both pedestrians and cars.

• Cost: In the long-run, the demolition (above-grade) and fill (below-grade) of the existing road will be far less costly than eventual upgrade or reconstruction.

• Traffic: While the new boulevard will be able to accommodate the majority of projected traffic through the area, drivers will also seek alternate routes through the downtown grid which is currently underutilized.

• Economic Benefits: Turning I-70 into a boulevard will free up acres of new, desirable development sites; increase the value of existing adjacent properties; and spur new retail and restaurant growth in the surrounding area.

• Place Making: A boulevard will provide a more suitable means of approach to the Arch and the downtown area. The “Magic Carpet” cap over the freeway to be built during the
first phase can also remain as a signature piece of architecture at the boulevard’s center, providing additional program for the park and museums beneath the upturned edges of its sweeping landscaped roof.

We strongly believe that the momentum created by the Memorial upgrades will help refocus the efforts of City to River and similar advocacygroups, realign political will towards the proposal, and lay the groundwork for the organizational cooperation needed to make the new boulevard become reality.”

Weiss-Manfredi Team:
“We have reviewed the proposal of the City to River group to replace the I-70 infrastructure at Memorial Drive with a new at-grade boulevard. The design of Full Circle does not preclude the creation of this boulevard should the option be pursued.

The community group City to River has suggested an alternate method of joining Downtown neighborhoods: replacing the grade separated section of Interstate 70 along Memorial Drive with an at-grade arterial street. While it is unclear if their proposal will move ahead, the Full Circle scheme does not preclude this at-grade arterial street and in fact Full Circle’s grand loop of transportation facilities could be easily integrated into its design.”

MVVA Team:
The Interstate 70 trench is now the most striking barrier between the Memorial and the city.

We have proposed a one-block overpass, rather than an at-grade boulevard, because it is less expensive, easier to achieve by 2015, and would require fewer jurisdictional and regulatory negotiations. But the benefits of removing the highway altogether are clear, and we have purposely created a proposal that is compatible with either solution.

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