MoDOT Announces Public Meeting to Discuss Alternatives for Lid over I-70 at Arch

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what I-70_2The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has announced a public meeting to discuss “several proposed alternatives for the Park over the Highway portion of the CAR2015 project.” The CityArchRiver preferred euphemism for the “lid”, the “Park over the Highway” as currently designed would remove several blocks of city streets, necessitating the reversal and widening of existing I-70 highway ramps and additional highway infrastructure to retain access to Washington Avenue from the south. The new ramps would necessitate the removal of the Pine Street bridge, one of just four access points along the Arch grounds.

The meeting, set for 3:00-5:00 p.m., next Tuesday, April 10, may be the only official opportunity for individuals to converse with MoDOT regarding what is a significantly flawed design. From the MoDOT release, it appear the meeting will be more of an “open-house”, similar to the recent Loop Trolley updates, with displays and people on hand to answer questions and receive feedback. This is meant to fulfill the minimum Federal requirements for public participation in the project.

To-date, just a single rendering and surrounding infrastructure design has been offered by project organizers. The Arch design competition winning design by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates (MVVA) showed a one-block lid with extended “noise mitigation hoods” extending to the north and south. In this design, Memorial Drive remains in place. This retains the existing street grid, making the Arch grounds more accessible and a more integral part of the city.

Leaving Memorial Drive in place saves millions of dollars. Sunk costs in additional highway infrastructure today will preclude any significant redesign for decades. Specifically, retaining Memorial Drive better preserves the option to convert 1.4 miles of I-70 into an urban boulevard that would stitch together downtown’s most visited attractions (Arch, Busch Stadium, Lumiere Casino and the Landing, the Edward Jones Dome and convention center).

I currently serve as chair of the citizen’s advocacy group City to River, an organization dedicated to enhancing connections between the river and neighborhoods of the central riverfront. We have been articulating the need to study the possibility of highway conversion for several years. In addition to the potential of such a project, we believe that removing city streets as currently planned would decrease connections between the city, the Arch and the riverfront. Many individuals and organizations have expressed support for a more comprehensive and public examination of options for this project that will dictate development patterns in the city for decades.

In addition to massive projects that would reverse and rebuilt highway ramps and more, smaller, more practical, and likely more impactful interventions should be fully explored. The experience of walking from the city to the Arch could be better, needs to be better. Cincinnati’s approach to its city and riverfront offer an excellent example of a path St. Louis should explore, one that does not further disconnect a city by removing streets. The images below highlight the dramatic difference seen in the two extraordinarily similar settings. The Arch connection shown in Pine Street and would be removed in the current Arch project design.

While it’s a positive step that for the first time in more than three years, the public will have the opportunity to view and discuss alternatives to the currently proposed lid, giving eight days notice for a public meeting to be held on a Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. displays a lack of priority given to the public part of a “public meeting”. The meeting is labeled an “open-house style” event and it’s difficult to see it as anything other than an FYI regarding whatever final design has been selected. Clearly, it’s imperative that those with an interest in the future of this part of the city attend, at least those who are able to get away from work, make arrangements for childcare, get downtown and spend an hour of their Tuesday chatting with traffic engineers. The full release is below.

{early design by MVVA}

{first public revision by MVVA following selection as project designer}

MVVA 2012
{most recent revision made public by project organizers}

MVVA 2012
{most recent revision made public by project organizers}

{image above represents most current design of “lid” and street closures for Arch project}

what I-70_2
{a view of the expansive I-70 infrastructure separating the city from the Arch grounds and riverfront}

City to River boulevard site plan
{the City to River vision of a “lid” and boulevard working together – newly developable land shown in orange}

Pine Street I-70 pedestrian crossing
{Pine Street crossing Memorial Drive and I-70 at the Arch grounds}

Cincinnati Interstate pedestrian crossing
{Main Street crossing, 2nd & 3rd streets and I-71 in Cincinnati, OH}

MoDOT St. Louis District Press Releases Page

Prepared by Andrew Gates 314/453-1808

April 02, 2012
MoDOT to hold public meeting on Park over the Highway alternatives
ST. LOUIS – The Missouri Department of Transportation will hold an open-house style public meeting to allow the public to discuss MoDOT’s portion of the CityArchRiver 2015 project.

The public meeting is scheduled April 10, between 3 and 5 p.m. in the St. Louis City Hall Board of Aldermen boardroom (on the second floor), 1200 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103.

During the meeting, MoDOT engineers will be on hand to discuss several proposed alternatives for the Park over the Highway portion of the CAR2015 project, to include what the department believes is the preferred alternative. Engineers will also be able to discuss potential impacts of each alternative.

This meeting will allow the public to provide input, and comments, either directly to the engineers or in written comments, on the alternatives presented. This meeting is part of the process to complete necessary Federal requirements for the project.

Since there are no formal presentations during the public meeting, participants may attend at any time during the open house.

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  • Jeffrey Kittel

    CitytoRiver needs to make itself impossible to ignore. This is the perfect opportunity to get a crowd together, make some signs, and make some noise.  Embarrass the people who want this to be a quiet, mostly overlooked event.  It may be the best opportunity CitytoRiver has to put political pressure on MODOT and CityArchRiver.  Talking about our complaints online will not create change.  Showing the people in charge that there is a large, vocal group of concerned citizens who care about this project might. 

  • Douglas Duckworth

    The buildings that sat on our riverfront could be today what the French Quarter is for New Orleans.  We can’t turn back time but at least there’s an opportunity today to remove this wasteland that divides the national monument from our downtown.  I do not understand why decision-makers are against this concept, given the overwhelming support for highway removal voiced by citizens to NPS.  

    Removing this highway would place St. Louis rightly back into the top tier and could attract global capital given our cheap real estate values and this excellent location.  Our planning efforts have already brought awards from the APA, ULI, and ASLA, while national news outlets have been talking about our small areas of business growth downtown.  St. Louis has a long history of bulldozing itself in order to find a new identity and attract economic development.  Why don’t we do that again except this time go in the right direction by removing this obsolete and underused infrastructure?  

    Toronto and Vancouver especially became what they are today due to many factors, but aggressive planning, luck, and the arrival of global capital made it happen. I am not suggesting St. Louis will be in the same position in 40 years, but we’ve made significant progress downtown and here’s another opportunity which should not be squandered. City leaders passed Complete Streets and Bike Parking legislation, while I’ve heard that Form Based Zoning is on the agenda. Younger generations want alternative forms of transportation while other cities see them as essential for economic development.

    Removing this highway sends a strong message that St. Louis is a place no longer stuck in the past, but positioning itself for future success. If we want to compete this needs to happen and don’t say it can’t be financed. According to EWG, our region spent $2.5B fighting internally over jobs and what do we have to show for it? Get the smartest people together with members of the public who have been pushing for this outcome and figure out how it can happen. We lost out to Chicago once before and shouldn’t let this go to waste.

  • Steve Kluth

    Has the design changed slightly? I actually like the plan with the ramps from Washington directly to the depressed lanes, which I don’t remember from before. I think with just a few mods this could work. I would keep all the bridges, and make all but the Walnut St Bridge pedestrian only. The three pedestrian crossings could all be made more natural looking with grass and flowers in raised beds. Rip up Memorial Drive on both sides north of Walnut and convert both to wide pedestrian paths (maybe 12′ wide) with trees and grass, hiding the depressed lanes with artwork and business kiosks. Make Walnut one-way westbound to Tucker, keeping a pedestrian crosswalk on the north side of the bridge to reduce pedestrian-auto conflicts. Spruce would be the only downtown egress to the Poplar St Bridge and southbound I-55. 

    I realize this isn’t your dream plan. I think ripping out the depressed lanes and the elevated section to the reversible lanes is political and economic suicide for the city. But this could join downtown and the Arch grounds with no traffic until 4th St. 

    I don’t think any plan will make everyone happy. But I do like this better than I did before. I may even go down next Tuesday and give my (probably ignored) opinion.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The object of a central city development cannot be to spend millions to segregate pedestrians and car traffic. This goal of there being no traffic along blocks and blocks of downtown, but expecting there to be “business kiosks” is nonsensical. And I have no idea how converting an obsolete Interstate into a boulevard that could leverage more than $1B in development would be “economic suicide” for the city. The building of the Interstates has not served the economic interests of the city. Preserving this 1.4 miles section of I-70 provides the city no economic benefit.

  • Jake

    I don’t know what CitytoRiver’s finances are, but money talks. If people can see there is financial backing for a project (removal of the highway) it becomes much more likely to be seriously considered.

    • Exactly. And with the current low level of private donations (assuming they’re not deliberately withholding that info from the public) collected so far, perhaps City+Arch+River is realizing it didn’t pick the plan that the public would have been willing to support.

    • Alex Ihnen

      The financial backing for this project comes from MoDOT. The political power pushing this project forward comes from the CityArchRiver2015 Foundation, meaning the power here doesn’t come from individuals or groups with financial power, but from those politically connected.

  • Roger Wyoming

    It is important to note that unlike the prior post, this is not an April Fool’s joke.  After many many months, MODOT is finally holding a public event on this.  Too bad its pro forma and they don’t really want public input.