Maplewood Aims to Kill “Fundamentally Flawed” South County Connector

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South County Connector - St. Louis

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.

South County Connector - St. Louis

South County Connector - St. Louis
{according to Maplewood, the draft proposals would kill the newly redeveloped Deer Creek Center}

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 White states that business relocation and right-of-way acquisition are also understated and out-of-date.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.

South County Connector - St. Louis
{one propsosed design would save money by not including any pedestrian access on a new I-44 bridge}

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.

City of Maplewood South County Connector Public Comment Letter by nextSTL

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

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (314) 615-8532

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  • jhoff1257

    For all the people concerned about getting to Festus and other southern fringe suburbs, I have an idea. Expanded public transit! Extend the MetroLink Blue Line or add commuter rail. If St. Louis County puts the $110 million budget (likely much more) behind funding a new rail based transit line it increases the chances of winning federal funding to cover a significant chunk of the extension. Instead the County wants to rip up a CITY park (going to need a vote for that) and displace several bike trails and businesses.

    MetroLink and MetroBus ridership is increasing and VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) are falling across Metro St. Louis. This “legacy project” is useless and there really isn’t any possible way to justify it. No matter how many of your friends live in far South County or Jefferson County.

    As for the Brush Creek comments, I used to live ON Brush Creek (I could smell it in the morning). Two totally different rivers in very different areas.

  • Daniel Layton

    I was glad to see that he mentioned the Deer Creek Park Trail, which has been pegged to be extended by Great Rivers Greenway, as an important item on the chopping block if this were to go ahead. Further, as an environmental kind of person, it seems shocking that, in a city where quite nearly ever bit of property adjacent to steams/rivers has been paved over or used for heavy industry, a proposal to actually do more of that is not more vociferously condemned on those very grounds.

    • guest

      Ask the Post Dispatch why they are barely covering this story? That is a shame.

  • Matthew

    Scott Ogilve, Alderman of the 24th Ward, also sent an official letter opposing the South County Connector.

  • T-Leb

    Not to jack the thread, but River des Peres could be restored to create better quality of life for residents. Like the LA River Restoration Project.

    • guest

      Clearly the first step in that effort is to channel more highway traffic onto RDP Blvd through the park. That ought to make the area more inviting! Not!

  • Stlplanr

    Maplewood lost all credibility when they approved a car dealership next to their MetroLink station. Plan for cars, die by cars.

    • Scott Jones

      Let’s not forget the neighborhood they bulldozed to build the Wal*Mart/Lowes/Red Lobster/Strip mall inanity!

  • Architect to be at High Pointe

    I’d love to see this as a really nice parkway – think about the brush creek corridor in beautiful Kansas City. I can imagine a nice continuous lush drive from big bend connecting to the upgraded river des peres boulevard that ends at Shrewsbury metro and continues to Broadway.

    I think this project can really make a positive impact. Alex and others, I understand the theories and practices of the elites – I’m thinking Jane Jacobs and other planners like her- but this drive can be a positive improvement if planned correctly.

    Instead of blasting this out of the water. Find common ground and work from there.

    Lastly, I’d like to see the on/off ramps to I-44 as close as possible to the highway to minimize the hard edge/wall that will break the surroundings.

    Thanks for listening.

    • guest

      What “improved River Des Peres Boulevard”? There are no improvements planned to RDP Boulevard. What are you talking about? Erasing homes to widen the road?

      Yesterday there as a parked car smashed rear-ended and totaled parked along River Des Peres.

      Face it: RDP Blvd is a bad road now, especially for all the homes fronting on it. So let’s build a big connector to it to make it an even more direct highway connector?

      • Architect-to-be at High Pointe

        The Trails along river des peres blvd have been added in the last couple years. Have you experienced along side it – new bridge, new paths, new lights to improve safety, benches, etc. Or if not in a car, have you experienced it as a pedestrian? It is fun and an asset to the city, county and region. That is the Improved RDB that I speak of.

        The homes that you speak of can be replaced. There is nothing in there that is significant. The houses, again can be replaced in other forms of housing – apt, condos, mixed use bldgs, etc. I’m trying to see your point of view, can you imagine if we could reintroduce a mixed use concept along this “parkway” (where it is ramping up to the highway). I envision a clear connection from big bend to RDB.

        assets: there is deer creek and river des peres. Both have trails and can be enhanced. See the trails at [ ]

        I want to assume that you want community. What if the plan connected the trails. Again see the trails on the above url.

        RDP blvd is not as bad as you think. It has greatly improved in the last couple / few years.

        NextSTL is all about community and smart planning. If we want a better connection – I think this so called sococonnector could be a way to make a connections from bbend to RDB and south city while also connecting those two areas to hwy 44.

        • guest

          Sounds like you’ve bought into the “urban renewal” model of community: build community by replacing it. That’s sick, young architect. Sick!

          • Architect-to-be at High Pointe

            I’d love to hear your comments regarding the items mentioned in my post but instead you claim that I bought into the “urban renewal” movement.

            For the record, I’m for the city-to-river movement. I want to eliminate the highway from the riverfront. Not a fan of the 141 extension up from 64 to 70 and was there to voice my disapproval for the rezoning of MH expressway that will affect the CreveCoeur Park and farmland. This young architect is not for urban renewal, brother/sister.

            I’d love to hear your comments on my posts above.

            I am quite familiar with the proposed construction area. I believe something better can be built there with the right mindset. Connect the trail system, improve pedestrian traffice, attract new mixed use to the deer creek site while making a clean and concise connection to the hwy. It can be done.

        • Chippewa

          “The homes there you speak of can be replaced. There is nothing in there that is significant”

          This hurts me. Are you serious?

          • Architect-to-be at High Pointe

            I went to get coffee at the QT around 8am today. Please tell me why Maplewood is for approving a new QT at the intersection of Manchester/BBend when there is one less than .5 miles from this intersection.

            The current QT bldg will become vacant. What will go there? Why not leave that QT there and develop a mixed use project at the intersection mentioned?

            So this brings me to the comment I made. I apologize, it wasn’t said correctly. I don’t mean to marginalize the homes and residents that live in proposed connector area.

            What I meant is that we can replace those homes with more homes/condos/retail/etc. The Mayor of Maplewood claims this development will have a negative impact on the city. I claim otherwise. I claim/believe that this can have a good impact for the city. MOre ppl will come into Maplewood as a result of a new on/off ramp there plus there is possibility of extending the trails of deer creek and RDP. Isn’t this what ppl on this site love? connectivity, pedestrian uses, trails?

            I feel that Maplewood should not have approved that damn QT location. Where was the outcry there? Why not fight for better development there?

  • fulltimemonti

    As a Maplewood resident, I have a strong interest in this project and I can not understand why people are so strongly against it. My council makes good points, but all seem fixable. The Deer Creek parking argument astounds me. Perhaps the businesses would choose/be forced to leave the plaza, and I find that preposterous. If the plan was carried out, the parking would still be sufficient. As it stands now, there is too much parking in the plaza. We will see how Pre-Christmas customers occupy the lots, but I cannot see them ever filling in even close to capacity. On top of that, this project can only bring more business to the store as maor traffic is funneled into close proximity to the businesses. If it is a zoning thing, the rules can and should be changes.

    The one BIG, fixable complaint is the the biking and walking access is horrendous. The Big Bend intersection is especially bad. It needs to have below-grade underpasses. If this issue was resolved, I would support the plan whole-heartedly.

    • guest

      The issue is that this is project looking for a problem. The EIS says it – traffic is expected to lessen in the future. So what’s the justification for spending 100-200 million dollars? What BETTER use of that money is there? That’s the real question, and exactly what Maplewood is asking.

      • fulltimemonti

        Understood. Infrastructure is always expensive. Unfortunately, our best friends live in Festus, so we drive down there a lot. Trying to get from mid-county to South county has always been a problem, and I have been wishing, without knowing it was in development, for an improvement like this. I am so glad 170 does not go any more south than this and I think a boulevard approach would work out well. The point is that too many people or driving on roads that are past capacity already and this would help alleviate that growing need without too much of an impact on the communities.

        • guest

          Yeah, but how bad is it *really*? Does it ever prevent you from going there? Would you prefer a freeway from your front door to the entrance to I-55?

          Living in Maplewood, you live in a place with charm. Your friends live in Festus. The charm of your area – our area – is supposed to be sacrificed so people have faster drives from Point A to Point B?

          Personally, I think that is a horrible choice, and Maplewood thinks it will cause actual harm to their community.

        • Alex Ihnen

          I don’t think any roads here are “past capacity”. In fact I think the very idea needs to be confronted. Building roads for 2hrs a day doesn’t make sense – just as you point out parking lots that are typical not used at capacity do not make sense. Overbuilt roads, which nearly all of our roads are, are very costly in terms of tax funds, time spent constructing them, opportunity cost of $ and physical space, air quality impact, induced miles driven and more.

          If navigating the area around rush hour, I understand what you mean, but more and bigger roads are unlikely to help that. For example, the new I-64 carries close to double what it did previously. Congestion has not improved. The EIS here states that area traffic is projected to lessen and that the project would increase congestion where it is already at its worst, Hanley at I-64.

        • pat

          It seems a bit inconsiderate to ask that a $100 million dollar road be built so that you can visit your friends more easily.

          • fulltimemonti

            I am just using at as an example. As if I am expecting things to change just for me. However if I, who doesnt leave mid-county much, see a need for it, I am sure there are others who drive much

          • fulltimemonti

            more than I do, who would see it as worth the expense as well as the many residents who would get commuters off their neighborhood streets.

        • T-Leb

          One can easily drive around Brentwood, Maplewood and Shrewsbury during rush hour. In fact, I did so to attend the public meeting the other week. Where’s this traffic people talk about? The 4-5 minutes additional?

        • Scott Jones

          Build this highway and more people will move down to Festus and Arnold, etc. then traffic will get worse and people will demand new/expanded highways and they will be built and then more people will move down to Festus and Arnold, etc. then traffic will get worse and people will demand new/expanded highways
          and they will be built and then more people will move down to Festus
          and Arnold, etc. then traffic will get worse and people will demand new/expanded highways
          and they will be built and then more people will move down to Festus
          and Arnold, etc….

          Get the point? All the while people will be leaving hollowed-out shells of cities in their wake. How about we just end the sprawl madness here? The inconvenience of driving is a good thing if it stops more of this from occurring.

    • Alex Ihnen

      I think the question for Maplewood is what the project brings to the community. The short answer is more commuters passing through at the cost of eliminating and marginalizing existing business and lessening the city’s tax base. The benefit to those south of the area is sort of understandable – they would spend less time in Maplewood on their way to/from elsewhere. For residents of the area and city there’s a huge price to pay for a theoretical savings of a minute here or there. One only needs to look at the relative health of communities and their proximity to arterial roads and highways to see that ever more roads and faster traffic doesn’t produce healthy communities.

      • fulltimemonti

        I had lunch with a Pevely resident last week and he was lamenting about how he loved visiting Maplewood, but how hard it was to get to. Someday, I will forgive him for living in Jeffco, however, Maplewood is a destination and my thought is that this would only add to mid-county’s value as the outsiders come into town to spend money and give us their sales taxes.

        Alex, I totally agree that poorly planned arterial roads are harmful to communities (thinking about Ellisville makes me shutter). The difference is that MBRH has a grid system for local traffic. Sure, I may use the new connector to get from #mplwd to South County or Jeffco, but I am not going to use it to get to Clayton, the Galleria, Brentwood, or Webster. Arterial roads are most harmful, for example Olive or Manchester in West County, when they are the only viable route from A to B. If this was to go down, I would actually hope it would allow Big Bend between 64 and the new connector to be better developed and slowed down to decrease through traffic. As I found in the arterials outside of NYC, it isnt about bigger it is about more. The more options people have the better. Any time there is only one way, that is where the problem lies. That was kind of a rant, but I do think this is a different situation. The big problem is walking/biking.

        • guest

          That’s the point – there are already multiple options. If you live in Maplewood and want to get to JeffCo, get on 44 east at Southwest, take 44 to 55 south and, bingo, you’re there. No big whoop. It’s maybe 6 minutes down 44 and then 20 minutes down 55 to JeffCo.

          What is the big deal to build a $150,000,000 plus road to save maybe five or ten minutes? Or just keep taking Big Bend down and wind your way around to 55 wherever you want. God, STL people are spoiled when it comes to their cars (and parking)!

        • guest

          I think it’s “hard to get to” Kimmswick, but I sure don’t want to see them build a Kimmswick Connector off if I-55. That would ruin the charm of the area.

        • T-Leb

          Greatest need for public dollars isn’t to get your friend from Pevely a direct flight and then land on a strip in Maplewood. Give it a rest dude. I’ve made sales calls all over South StL and most of Missouri South on I-55, there is no problem that a South County Connector is going to fix.

          • fulltimemonti

            “Give it a rest, dude.” I hope you aren’t as much of an ass in real life as you seem to be in this discussion. It is just a friendly debate, and you are using language that makes it sound like I am ranting on and on. You may not be taking it personally, but some of your posts make it seem like you are.

          • T-Leb

            Welcome to the internet!

  • Chippewa

    Maplewood is a bro-tier suburb. Good on them.

    This proposal, as Alex pointed out, has been going for 50 years now. It has been cut down, whittled away from a full fledged highway, down to a “connector” that is being stubbornly forced upon us. Hopefully we can kill this thing for good, and move on.

    This was a very productive first step. Thanks for making my morning!

  • guest

    Well, I can’t tell, because for the second week in a row the paper is not on our porch . But it’s not anywhere in the online version while there is a story about a South County County Councilman trying to block an already approved and under construction affordable housing development for seniors. Indirectly, that’s sort of related.

    People just don’t pay attention to things, even when they live in the planning area of projects. It seems especially true here in St. Louis. People are just too damned comfortable in their routines. C’mon people, wake up! And in this case, wake up before this friggn’ highway proposal eats your neighborhood!

  • guest

    What a breath of fresh air! Amazing to see a local municipality buck the system. And Maplewood no less! The little city that has turned itself around in amazing fashion to become a beacon of community renewal and sustainability. More of this please! St. Louis City could learn a lot from this story.

    It will be curious to see how much media attention goes to this issue now? Media coverage has been very little, especially for such a massive project. It’s incredible how few people even know about the project, even those living in the study are.

    Now those opposed as individuals have something to hang their hats on: one of our neighbors, directly in the path of this project, via its official incorporated status – the mayor on city letterhead – has come out adamantly against this project.

    How often do we see this kind of leadership in St. Louis? Hats off to Mayor White and the people of Maplewood for making a big positive difference to the lives of Maplewood residents and its neighbors.

    Great reporting here by NextSTL, too, likening this proposal to a man-eating monster from a horror movie. Someone needs to get a graphic artist working on the movie poster right away and start posting it on billboards all over the inner ring.

    Now I’m gonna go grab my Post-Dispatch off the front porch and see if this story made the news….