MoDOT Calls I-70 to Boulevard Plan “Not Feasible” Because CityArchRiver2015 Says So

I-70 at ArchMoDOT held a public meeting April 10 to solicit public comments on the CityArchRiver2015 Foundation’s plan to remove several blocks of downtown St. Louis streets including Memorial Drive at the Gateway Mall. The public was given 12 days notice of the meeting that was held from 3:00-5:00 p.m. in City Hall. At the meeting, three “alternatives” were presented for addressing perceived inadequacies in pedestrian connections between downtown and the Arch grounds (click here to read the nextSTL summary of the public meeting).

At the meeting, alternatives two and three were labeled “does not meet the need and purpose of the (CityArchRiver) project”. And so no alternatives were presented. Now MoDOT is responding to individuals who suggested as part of the requested public feedback that I-70 should be converted to a boulevard. MoDOT is stating that there are “two key reasons why removal of the I-70 corridor is not feasible.” (full text of MoDOT form response below)

Reason one is that the CityArchRiver plan “precludes eliminating I-70 and turning it into a boulevard.” Why? Because, MoDOT states, a boulevard in place of the Interstate “would not solve the primary purpose and need for the CAR 2015 project. A primary purpose of the CAR 2015 project is to ease both pedestrian and bike flow from downtown into the Arch grounds.  A four to six lane boulevard would restrict pedestrian and bike access, not make it better. In addition, an at-grade boulevard does not link the Arch grounds with Luther Ely Square Park and the courthouse.”

MoDOT is simply wrong. A boulevard does not restrict access in any way. Our downtown street grid connects our city. How are pedestrians and bicyclists, or people in wheelchairs going to access this new “over the highway park”? By crossing dozens of 4-6 lane streets and boulevards throughout downtown. CAR is planning to eliminate the north Arch grounds parking garage, encouraging visitors to park in existing downtown garages and parking spaces. From wherever they will park, visitors will be required to cross Broadway (to where Memorial Drive traffic will now be directed).

Arch visitors will cross Market Street, up to eight lanes crossing Tucker, and on and on. A primary goal of the CAR 2015 project is to get people to explore downtown St. Louis and not simply visit the Arch and leave. To explore downtown St. Louis, visitors will cross many streets. Closing streets, removing traditional intersections does not improve pedestrian and bike access. An intact and coherent street grid with more connections, not fewer (as is being proposed) creates accessibility.

MoDOT then claims that I-70 through downtown St. Louis is a necessary traffic route, but then invalidates that claim by stating that the elevated sections of I-70 could be removed in the future. What’s clear is the MoDOT is doing its best to serve its client, CityArchRiver. The City has abdicated its responsibility for planning to a multi-million dollar non-profit that has discouraged public feedback in its desire to remark the signature landmark in the city. You can bet that if CityArchRiver were to listen to public feedback and support the Interstate to boulevard conversion, that MoDOT would suddenly find it “feasible”.

MoDOT’s response and CityArchRiver’s stance that Memorial Drive must be closed and tens of millions of dollars must be spent to widen the depressed lanes of I-70 and rebuilding obsolete highway infrastructure must be rejected. City Hall is to blame, MoDOT is to blame, but CityArchRiver holds the key and the client. Clearly they are determined, beyond any measure justified by good design or adherence to project goals, to close Memorial Drive.

Why? Because changes to the Arch grounds at the Gateway Mall will provide the best photo-op, it’s the most high profile location. It’s where people will be able to go and say, “hey, they really changed something.” While raising Lenor K. Sullivan Boulevard above frequent flood stage and providing useful and incredibly attractive ADA ramps to the riverfront are much more necessary, impactful and commonsense, it’s the “lid” that remains the focus. Second, there’s funding for the “lid”. Neither of these reasons justifies what is a wrongheaded design for the city, residents and visitors.

It’s terribly unfortunate that CityArchRiver continues to be wedded to this “lid” mistake. Nearly all other changes proposed will have positive impacts on the visitor experience and the city itself. Those changes should be supported. If only CityArchRiver would turn its focus to the rest of the project and listen to public calls to bring the city to the Arch and not attempt to make the city a park, the community could fully endorse the plans to remake our landmark.

_________________________________________________________

From: [email protected]

Date: May 7, 2012 8:53:05 AM CDT
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Comment at MoDOT’s April 10, 2012 Public Meeting

Thank you for your recent comment as part of the April 10 public meeting to discuss the Park over the Highway project.

As part of the public outreach for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s portion of the CityArchRiver 2015 (CAR 2015) project the department received many comments about converting a portion of I-70 in downtown St. Louis into a boulevard.

There are two key reasons why removal of the I-70 corridor is not feasible:

First, the CityArchRiver plan for the closing of Memorial Drive, which has widespread support, precludes eliminating I-70 and turning it into a boulevard.  Removing the interstate and replacing it with a boulevard would not solve the primary purpose and need for the CAR 2015 project.  A primary purpose of the CAR 2015 project is to ease both pedestrian and bike flow from downtown into the Arch grounds.  A four to six lane boulevard would restrict pedestrian and bike access, not make it better.  In addition, an at-grade boulevard does not link the Arch grounds with Luther Ely Square Park and the courthouse.

Second, there are significant north-south truck and other vehicle movements that use this section of I-70 and will continue to use it after the new Mississippi River bridge opens (traffic from northbound I-55 to westbound I-70).  There are only two north-south interstate corridors in St. Louis – I-55/I-70 and I-270.  This traffic would either use the boulevard or divert onto I-270, which already has significant capacity problems.  The first would lessen many of the benefits created by the boulevard; the second would further exacerbate one of the region’s most significant congestion problems.

If, at a future time, regional leaders determine that removing the elevated lanes of I-70 is a regional priority and would be beneficial to the region, the preferred alternative design for the Park Over the Highway would not preclude that work from happening.

Covering the depressed lanes of I-70 with a landscaped walkway allows for a safe and accessible way to access the Arch grounds by all tourists and residents, including people with disabilities and young families. This design truly connects the Arch grounds to the City and the region.

v/r

Andrew Gates
Customer Relations, MoDOT St. Louis District
1590 Woodlake Dr.
Chesterfield, MO 63017
phone (314) 453-1808  cell (314) XXX-XXXX  fax (573) 526-0085
NEXTEL 140*2*XXXX

“Our mission is to provide a world-class transportation experience that delights our customers and promotes a prosperous Missouri.”

_________________________________________________________
{the existing CityArchRiver, MoDOT plan}CAR connectivity
{the existing CityArchRiver, MoDOT plan}

economic_benefits_map
{the City to River plan – citytoriver.org}

About Alex Ihnen

Alex is the founder of nextSTL.com. He earned a B.A. in Journalism and Masters in Public Affairs at Indiana University and has studied in Adelaide, Australia and Perugia, Italy. Alex can be found on Twitter @alexihnen and reached at [email protected]