Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard

I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard

Yesterday I walked around and through the new interchange of I-70 at Florissant Road/University Boulevard, the somewhat new ceremonial entrance to UMSL.

Not surprisingly, this interchange is anything but pedestrian-friendly. Sure, the new flyover ramps, on- and off-ramps, and underpass are much more attractive and safer for drivers than the old tight-diamond interchange. Merging is much safer now that two exits are essentially combined, with extended outer ramp roads running most of the way from Bermuda to North Hanley. It is a dramatic improvement for drivers' safety.

Nevertheless, the interchange still forms a substantial physical and psychological barrier between the north end of the UMSL campus and the housing and retail areas to the north along Florissant Road. Further, the "re-branding" of the section of road from I-70 south a few blocks as "University Boulevard" highlights this distinction.

A short distance south of the interchange is the signalized intersection of two roads whose names didn't exist just a few years ago: University Boulevard at University Place Drive. This "University Place Drive" is actually just a short little connector between the new road (University Boulevard) and the remaining orphaned section of Florissant Road just a few hundred feet west.

This surreal orphaned road is a dead-end at both ends. At the north end, about where Geiger Road used to come in, is the entrance to the construction zone for the new corporate headquarters of Express Scripts. They broke ground Nov. 2.

The huge site bounded roughly by the new I-70 to the north, University Boulevard to the east, the Mark Twain athletic complex to the south, and the MetroLink line to the west, used to include a dozen or so homes that had been bought out over the years by UMSL, the University Park Apartments, a small strip-mall with apartments on top, and a large nursery complex of probably 6 or 7 large greenhouses. Over the years they have been demolished, and the site has mostly been graded.

The southern end of the orphaned former Florissant Road provides access to the former northern entrance to the campus, at Mark Twain Drive. Most curiously, the former MedNorth medical office building a few years ago was re-branded by UMSL as the "St. Louis Regional Education Park" housing a number of university-affiliated education initiatives such as the Regional Center for Education and Work.

The building is sandwiched in a wedge between the new and old roadways, with a retaining wall for the new road just a few feet from the building. I keep wondering just how much longer that building will stand; after all, it's clearly in the path of access to the new road from pre-existing Mark Twain Drive, and the College of Education is primarily housed way down on South Campus.

I'm excited by the prospect of a major corporation like Express Scripts moving to inner-ring North County from the Riverport area in Maryland Heights. I just wish they would consider developing something with more pedestrian connections to its surroundings. After all, the North Hanley and UMSL North MetroLink stations are not far away, but the development seems to be planned as a highway-oriented office park rather than transit-oriented.

Admittedly, it doesn't help that North Hanley MetroLink station is far from pedestrian-friendly. The relocation of the platform access ramp eastward, away from the apartments across Hanley but adjacent to the new park-n-ride garage, is very telling. This garage is set back the equivalent of two blocks from Hanley. Admittedly, there is still surface parking closer to Hanley which could perhaps be used for a transit-oriented development; UMSL has talked of building a hotel and conference center there, but I'm not sure if that project still has legs.

But for now, it's clear that at the North Hanley station, Metro prioritizes park-n-ride customers 1st, bus transfer customers 2nd (half a dozen bus routes converge there), and neighborhood residents a distant 3rd. There is a stairway leading from Hanley to the parking lot at least; that was built a few years ago. So that's an improvement on the mud path that used to lead to the station from Hanley itself.

1 comment:

mattmattmatt said...

Just out of curiosity, what do you think of the bike path that runs from UMSL North to downtown Ferguson? I've started using this on my daily commute since it's much safer than traversing the new interchange and much fast than waiting for the North County Shuttle. However, it seems to me that nobody really knows it's there.