Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bridge to Nowhere?

Bridge to Nowhere?

The new, somewhat-less-expensive plan for the New Mississippi River Bridge was unveiled last night to St. Louisans.

I didn't make it to the meeting, but according to the article, highlights include:

  • Dropping the IL Route 3 relocation plan
  • Dropping the I-64 connector
  • Simplifying greatly the I-70 interchange by dropping the connectors to North Tucker and North 14th, with the connection into downtown St. Louis made via a ramp onto Cass Avenue near 11th.
  • Dropping the reconstruction of the I-64/55/70/St Clair Ave interchange in East St. Louis

    I suspect, although the article neglected it, that the initially related rebuild of the Missouri approaches to the Poplar Street Bridge and adjacent streets has been quietly eliminated as well.

    But these other projects being dropped is significant. The IL Route 3 relocation is something that has been talked about since the 1950s! It was envisioned as part of the Great River Road which today still avoids the IL Route 3 corridor entirely in East St. Louis and the towns to the north. I guess it's just too embarassing to show tourists.

    Instead, the official route of the Great River Road through Madison and St. Clair counties is:

    From Alton to Cahokia:
    south on IL Route 3 to I-270
    east on I-270 to IL Route 111
    south on IL Route 111 to I-55/70
    southwest on I-55/70 to IL Route 3
    south on IL Route 3

    While there is a "Madison County Exploration Route" through Granite City, etc., I don't think it is posted or well-known. Thus, the official route is via IL Rt 111, through Pontoon Beach and alongside Horseshoe Lake. Why they don't just make it I-255, I don't know.

    Anyway, it's not surprising this Route 3 relocation is dead. It will probably never happen.

    Dropping the I-64 connector, though, is much more problematic. Is the idea that this new bridge will mainly be used by trucks and Madison County commuters?

    Seems like St. Clair County residents will not be able to use it, unless they exit I-64 at 18th and Baugh, crossover at 9th, and use St Clair Ave/Route 3 to connect to an on-ramp somewhere in Brooklyn. Alternatively, I suppose those coming from above the bluffs could take I-255 north from I-64, then pick up I-55/70 and continue onto the new I-70 route. But East St. Louisans would not really be able to use this new bridge. Again, East St. Louis gets screwed by highway construction.

    Also, I'm really not clear on how that new I-70 route would impact the friggin' huge Milam Landfill located in St. Clair County at the NE quadrant of I-55/70 and IL Route 203, the main route into Granite City from I-55/70, and across 203 from Gateway International Raceway.

    It looks like the new I-70 would pass just north of the racetrack; but almost through the landfill. That damn landfill already is taller than the Cahokia Mounds just to the east; and even blocks the view of the Gateway Arch for a while when you're traveling west on I-55/70. I know St. Louis trash has to go somewhere; but it's really, really, really unpleasant to see.

    Many urbanists are happy the ramps on the St. Louis side of the new bridge will be much less extensive. However, they'll still be a significant physical and psychological barrier between the downtown riverfront and the North Broadway area around Produce Row.

    Just as I-70 forever separated the residential area of Old North St. Louis from the industrial employers along North Broadway, so will this bridge separate North Broadway and Produce Row from the new developments of the Pinnacle Casino, Bottle District, Trailnet Laclede Power Building, and whatever else happens in between there.

    I also suspect the demolition of the elevated interurban railway tracks, proposed in one part of the new bridge plan, has also been quietly dropped. Thus an opportunity to slightly mitigate this project's impact, by removing another barrier, may be gone as well. After all, the new ramps will not intersect with the tracks, as best I can tell.

    The biggest problem with this bridge, aside from neighborhood impacts, is that I don't think it will really reduce commuter traffic on the Poplar Street Bridge all that much.

    Think about where much of the traffic originates: St. Clair County. Where do the commuters go? Downtown St. Louis, BJC hospital complex in the Central West End, Clayton, and points beyond. Thus, they heavily rely on I-64/US 40 to get around on the Missouri side. Not so many jobs are located along the I-70 corridor in North City and County. Evening rush-hour traffic on 40 approaching the PSB routinely backs up to Union Station, Jefferson, sometimes even Grand if there's an accident.

    Will this bridge be useful to those commuters? No, not really. It's too far north, and not connected to I-64 in IL or MO.

    While it will help Madison County commuters somewhat, they also have the I-270 Chain of Rocks Bridge. The main beneficiary will be the trucking industry, since the PSB approach ramps are, admittedly, way too tight. While most over-the-road truckers use I-270 or I-255 Jefferson Barracks Bridge to bypass downtown, the Hall Street terminals are an important part of the city's employment base. Keeping them happy isn't necessarily bad; I'm just not sure it's worth $910 million. Perhaps upgrading the McKinley Bridge would be adequate? It hooks into the expressway portion of IL Route 3 through the west edge of Granite City, which then connects to I-270.

    Anonymous said...

    What's the problem with the interurban rail tracks? I thought that there was a plan/idea to redo them into park of a bike trail?

    Will Winter

    Joe said...

    I didn't hear about that - it sounds pretty cool, actually.

    I was indirectly following up on some comments made on the Eco-Absence blog.

    Anonymous said...

    I think it was the brain child at Doug Eller at Grace Hill.

    Will Winter

    Michael Allen said...

    I would strongly favor retaining the interurban tracks for an elevated bike path. Although those tracks did damage in the past, they are visually interesting and without live trains far less disruptive to Old North than they once were.