Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Musings on "The New I-64" Project

Musings on "The New I-64" Project

The impending reconstruction of U.S. Highway 40/Interstate 64 from Tower Grove to Spoede will have a dramatic impact on that "spine" of the St. Louis region.

Of course, those of us who live and work in the city will feel the impacts only secondarily, since there are tons of alternative routes within the city limits. Even if you live in the Central West End, you can take Forest Park Parkway/Market, or Lindell/Olive, or Delmar/Washington (via one block on Vandeventer).

Still, there is justifiable concern that some West County residents may not come into downtown as much as they might otherwise, thereby reducing our tax revenues. If they telecommute, they probably still would be counted as employed in the city, so earnings taxes wouldn't be impacted. More impact will be felt on sales tax revenues from restaurants and retailers, as well as gross receipts taxes on restaurants and parking facilities.

And it will be a little harder for us to get to the Galleria and other stores in that area, especially since the ramps on the south side of Galleria Parkway at I-170 will be closed permanently. I've always thought that was a better route to get to the mall from the east, rather than messing with traffic signals on Brentwood.

I also wonder how this will impact transit service. Everybody says "take MetroLink"... but if you have to battle bumper-to-bumper traffic in order to get to the MetroLink stop off Eager Road, how much does that really help in the short-term? After all -- unless you can walk to a MetroLink station -- you still have to travel by road, either on a MetroBus or in a private vehicle. Another issue is with crossing points like Bellevue Avenue, which will be closed for a while, requiring a reroute of the #16 City Limits bus.

I still don't understand why the upscale municipalities of Ladue, Creve Coeur, Frontenac, and Town & Country have so much control over Ladue Road and Clayton Road. Since they have repeatedly blocked attempts at widening those roads, taken them from State control, and they can afford to maintain them in the two-lane configuration they prefer;
there is controversy now that St. Louis County is trying to take those roads over temporarily and redesign them slightly, to make traffic flow better without widening them (imagine that!).

The St. Louis County arterial road network (PDF) is vast, so you might think they wouldn't want to mess with this temporary takeover. They already control Clayton Road from the St. Louis city limits to just west of the Galleria -- but even there, a proposed right-turn-only setup for the Walgreens at Big Bend has stirred controversy.

Clayton Road has several different owners along its route. Of course, that first block or two is in the city, so it's the Street Department. From the city limits to Lay Road, it's a county arterial -- with a caveat, as noted by St. Louis County: "(excluding the north half of Clayton Road between Lay Road and Louwen Drive, which is maintained by the City of Ladue)."

That reminds me of Weber Road from Lemay Ferry Road (aka Alabama Ave) to about Union Road. Weber Road is the boundary between St. Louis city and county, so it used to have signs (maybe still does) indicating "This Half of Road Maintained By St. Louis County." So, literally, the pavement was at times two different colors/ages, depending which side of the road you were on. Sometimes one side was snowplowed, the other was not.

Street naming and street ownership in this region is just so darn parochial, it's a wonder anything ever gets built.

Anyway, the northern half of Clayton Road from Louwen to Lay, and then all of it from Lay to Lindbergh, is owned by the City of Ladue. From Lindbergh to about Bopp Road, it's Frontenac. Then from Bopp to MO 141, it's Town & Country. From 141 to Clarkson (MO 340), it's State Secondary Route HH. Then from Clarkson to Eatherton (MO 109), it's a County arterial again!

At least I think so. At least one map I've seen, indicates Route HH extends from Ballas Road (aka Route JJ) to Clarkson. In that case, only the segment from Bopp to Ballas would be owned by T&C.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Free Tax Help in February

Free Tax Help in February

At least two local organizations now provide free income tax services, particularly targeted at folks eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). For many low- and moderate-income working families, the EITC refund represents a large percentage of their annual income. Instead of falling victim to the "Money Now" offers from Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block, etc. that are actually high-interest, short-term refund anticipation loans... you can get free help, still get your refund within a few weeks, and save hundreds of dollars in fees and interest.

The St. Louis Tax Assistance Program started in 1998 by some volunteer accountants and other professionals, and the Gateway EITC Community Coalition started in 2003 by the United Way, assist folks with household incomes under $37,000 and $38,300, respectively, as long as they don't itemize or have business or rental income.

The program actually started last Saturday, but of course many folks don't necessarily get all their W-2's until the first week in February, especially if they had four or five jobs in 2006.

Anyway, here's the upcoming schedules for both programs:

Saturday, February 3, 2007


9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
MET Center
6437 Plymouth Ave.


(just steps from the Wellston MetroLink station and #94 Page bus.)

9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Youth and Family Center
2929 N. 20th St.

(near the #30 Soulard, #41 Lee and #74 Florissant bus lines.)


8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

St. Patrick Partnership Center
800 N. Tucker Blvd.

(on the #41 Lee, #74 Florissant and #94 Page bus lines; long walk to Convention Center MetroLink and numerous other bus lines.)

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Ranken Technical College
4431 Finney Ave.

(near the #18 Taylor, #32 Wellston-MLK and #94 Page bus lines.)

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
St. Mary's High School
4701 S. Grand Blvd.

(on the #70 Grand bus, to Grand & Iron. Several blocks from #08 Bates bus line.)

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Believers Temple Word Fellowship
2115 Chambers Rd.

(on the #61 Chambers Road, several blocks from the #27 North County Shuttle and #64 Lucas Hunt bus lines.)

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
St. Charles School District Admin Building - North (Adult Education)
1025 Country Club Rd., SW of the junction of I-70 and Zumbehl Rd.

(no transit service)

TAP repeats at all five locations on Feb. 10, 17, and 24.

GECC repeats at MET Center only on Feb. 10, 17, and 24.

Additional GECC locations and dates are:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
International Institute
3654 S. Grand Blvd.

(on the #70 Grand and #93 Midtown South County buses; near the #11 Chippewa bus.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Vashon High School
3035 Cass Ave.

(on the #32 Wellston-MLK bus; several blocks from the #70 Grand and #04 Natural Bridge.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Six Degrees....

Over the weekend I saw one of those entertainment shows featuring Kevin Bacon talking about his latest charitable venture,

I think it's a pretty clever endeavor: leveraging on the popularity of the infamous game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to promote charitable giving via the already existing well-developed Network for Good interface.

So... how many degrees between Kevin Bacon and the Gateway Arch? This takes you outside the movie world a bit:

1) Kevin Bacon's father was a prominent Philadelphia city planner named Edmund Bacon;
2) Edmund Bacon studied under prominent Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen;
3) Of course, Eliel's son Eero Saarinen designed the Gateway Arch.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Transit Daze

Transit Daze

Lately I've taken public transit to some of the more remote places accessible by transit in the St. Louis region, logging probably several hundred miles and certainly many hours.

A few Sundays ago, I took the #30 Soulard and then the #57 Manchester all the way to West County Center. The place was packed and many traffic lights in the Kirkwood area were out, after that latest ice storm passed through. The area there seemed to have been hit much harder than St. Louis City. Then I took the #58 Ellisville-Chesterfield, MetroLink, and the #11 Chippewa back into the city.

That #58 is a fast ride, since it usually runs on I-64/US 40 from Ballas direct to Hanley, not just at peak-hour but all day, every day. The #58 has two branches, one starting in Chesterfield Valley and the other in Wildwood, but both express to MetroLink from Ballas MetroBus Center eastward.

I kind of wish the Olive and Page corridors could be split up like that, with a reverse commute express via 40 or I-70 from MetroLink. Then again, once the I-64 rebuild starts, the #58 will no longer be so fast. But for now, it works nicely.

I did go out to Westport on Tuesday via transit, using the #11x, MetroLink, and then the #33 Dorsett-Lackland to get there. That #33 is a long, twisty ride mostly through Overland. Actually, it's almost an express from Rock Road MetroLink to near I-170, simply because that section of St. Charles Rock Road is mostly cemeteries and golf courses, with limited residential population. But once you get into Overland, it slows down; then it speed up again west of Lindbergh. It's the bus route that most closely parallels the western reaches of the old Creve Coeur Lake trolley.

My trek back into the city had me headed way south, to the Carondelet YMCA, so from the #33 and MetroLink (via a transfer from eastbound to westbound at Forest Park) I hopped onto the #08 Bates line.

The #08 is a tremendously convenient option added to the system in August 2006; although many many years ago before Bi-State took over transit service, there was a #108 Bates bus line.

This route is a nice, quick way to get from Shrewsbury MetroLink station to Gravois and Hampton; from there it travels a long bidirectional loop via Morganford, Bates, S. Grand, Loughborough, S. Broadway, and Marceau/Germania.

So in addition to replacing the southernmost leg of the #90 Hampton, it connects to places like the new Loughborough Schnucks and the Carondelet Y, not to mention the Bevo Mill and Holly Hills neighborhoods. If you need to get to work in Clayton, for example, it is much faster than taking routes like the #10 Gravois, #40 Broadway or #70 Grand all the way to downtown/midtown. It's a pretty short route overall, so it seems to be mostly on-time. And it lays over 10 minutes at Shrewsbury station; usually the driver will let passengers board to stay warm until it's time to pull off.

I rode the #08 again on Wednesday, after taking the #11 directly from home to Sunset Hills and then back to Shrewsbury. The stop by the new Schnucks is not ideally situated, but hopefully the access will be better once all construction is done. I do think the site plan could have used some work, but once you get inside the new Schnucks, it's clearly 10x better than the old store, and probably 100x better than the Grand and Gravois location is!

At peak-hour, another option for accessing the new Schnucks, or the YMCA, is the #40x I-55 Mehlville Express, which stops on the Loughborough on-ramp to I-55 southbound. It's a bit more walking to either destination, but (barring traffic) it's a fast ride from downtown St. Louis. Just make sure to pull the stop request cord right after you pass the Bates Street exit; you don't want to have ride all the walk down to Reavis Barracks Road, since you'd then have to take the much slower #93 Midtown-South County to go back north.

I even took MetroLink into Illinois yesterday to get to Scott Air Force Base. Visitors are not allowed access at the unstaffed gate adjacent to Shiloh-Scott MetroLink station; you need to be in their biometric security database to get in there, which pretty much means only base personnel and their families. So I caught a ride with a colleague from Swansea station due east to the main gate at the end of Siebert Road; then a quick ride back to Shiloh-Scott Station, about 1.5 miles south of the main gate via Air Mobility Drive (IL 158).

On the way, I got a look at the massive new St. Clare Catholic Church being built in O'Fallon near I-64. This parish has been located at the same spot in old town O'Fallon since 1868; the current sanctuary dates to 1895. But now because of the massive rapid growth in that area, they're building a new, much larger facility on land owned by the parish for at least five years.

I've also finally figured out there is, indeed, an accessible route to access the Eads Bridge on foot from the eastside. If you take MetroLink to East Riverfront station, a ramp leads up to the walkway along the south side of the bridge. However, on the Missouri side, there is no such convenient connection between Laclede's Landing station and the upper deck. Unfortunately, since the Landing station is a center-platform, it would impossible to make such a connection with the current structures in place.

I think the East Riverfront station platform, and the Eads Bridge walkway above, have some of the greatest views of the Arch and the downtown skyline. And I hope and believe that sooner, rather than later, the East St. Louis Riverfront will be fully developed in a way that complements that magnificent view.

Name Changes

Name Changes

Keeping up with the changes in name by colleges both private and public can be tricky.

Over the past decade, most of the regional state colleges in Missouri have changed names in an effort to attract more students, especially those from abroad.

I just discovered that Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg has became University of Central Missouri (UCM).

More (in)famously, Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield became Missouri State University (MSU) in 2005. Also, Harris-Stowe State College here in St. Louis became Harris-Stowe State University.

Some protested this would confuse folks with the University of Missouri system, but arguably it's even more confusing that just 70 miles west in Joplin is MSSU: Missouri Southern State University, whose name was changed from Missouri Southern State College in 2003.

Also the former Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph is now called Missouri Western State University. However, just 40 miles north in Maryville is Northwest Missouri State University. A proposed attempt to merge NWMO into the UM system a few years back sure didn't get very far.

Probably what started the name change craze among the state schools was the change of Northeast Missouri State in Kirksville to Truman State University. Of course, Truman State is different because it has more selective admissions standards than the other former regional state colleges.

Meanwhile, Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau retains its regional name as well.

And just about every private four-year college in the area now calls itself a University. Webster made the switch years ago, followed more recently by places like Maryville, Fontbonne, and Lindenwood. Of course, most of these were once all-female schools, but now are co-ed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Town v. Gown Conflict

Town v. Gown Conflict

From today's WashU Student Life:

"There is a feeling that the Washington University community is more respectful and takes more pride in the institution and in the places on campuses than the public does," said [Mike] Saxvik.


Mike Saxvik is identified in the story as WashU coordinator for student involvement and programming leadership and the Gargoyle's staff advisor.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Some January Anniversaries

Some January Anniversaries

Today is the 16th anniversary of the Congressional declaration of the first war in Iraq: Operation Desert Storm. The 1st airstrikes started five days later, January 17.

Last Wednesday, January 3, marked the 5th anniversary of the passing of my dad Gary Frank, who was a Vietnam-era veteran of the US Air Force (airman 1st class).

Last Thursday, January 4, was the first anniversary of this blog being featured in the South Side Journal.

Last Saturday, January 6, was the fourth anniversary of this blog.

Sunday, January 14, will mark one year since I got mugged at Gravois and Ohio.

Sunday, January 28, will mark 21 years since the Challenger disaster.

Also, Monday, January 15, will be the 22nd observation of Martin Luther King Day as a Federal holiday. In this case the City of St. Louis was actually pretty progressive: Mayor Cervantes made it a city holiday back in 1971, 15 years before the Federal government.

Anyway, try to stay safe this holiday weekend; the current predictions of ice storms are rather dire, to say the least!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Year, New Directions

New Year, New Directions

Well, a lot has happened since my last post (12-21-2006).

The holiday break was crazy for me and Kelly. Highlights include:

12/22: House-cleaning galore!
12/23: Friend and her family over for early dinner and gift-giving.
12/24: To St. Charles near Page Extension for one part of family gift-giving.
12/25: To Dellwood (N. County) for main part of family gift-giving.
12/27: To Poplar Bluff to visit family.
12/28: While in Poplar Bluff, got job offer phone call!
1/2: Pres. Ford National Day of Mourning. (At first, I was annoyed Jerry Ford didn't seem to be getting the same level of attention as Reagan, but that was probably just due to the holiday. Overall, an appropriate level of respect and effort was provided for the state funeral, etc.)
1/4: Meeting with dissertation committee.
1/5: Interesting and exciting (for me) event at Carpenters' Hall: kickoff for the new Regional Union Construction Center small business incubator.
1/7: More student driving, mostly in inner-ring SW County (Webster Groves, Rock Hill, etc.)
1/9: Another fun event (for me): the Regional Brownfields Marketplace at UMSL.

The big news I buried in the middle of that list, then, is the new job. Of course I had to announce this last week to my profs in political science at WashU because this means I cannot be a TA there anymore. I'm already done with coursework, and very close to being a PhD candidate.

This position is with University of Missouri Extension's Missouri Business Development Program, working in the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Center (MO PTAC) for the Eastern Region, located in downtown St. Louis.

MO PTAC helps small businesses get government contracts. My position is brand new, adding a second full-time person in St. Louis in addition to the Eastern Region director, Rich Fyke. I'll be helping Rich particularly with:

*Minority- and Women-Owned Businesses
*Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses
*HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) Businesses
*State and Local Government Contracts

The HUBZone designation covers selected Census tracts including about 60% of the City of St. Louis; Lambert Airport, Wellston, Kinloch, parts of Jennings, Maplewood and Berkeley -- as well as entire counties in rural Southeast Missouri. It's pretty much anywhere unemployment is high and median income is low.

There will also be a person based in Clayton who spends about 1/2 their time on PTAC, in addition to general business development. MO PTAC also has folks in Columbia (the state headquarters), Kansas City, Rolla, and West Plains. SW Missouri has a regional PTAC program based in Joplin called Heartland PTAC.

Most PTAC services are free; some seminars require a small fee. Given the limited number of staffers and the broad geographic reach, the impacts are quite promising. In FY06, businesses working with MO PTAC received over $185 million in government contracts. That's just in one year, in 2/3rds of the counties in Missouri.

I start February 1, 2007. This position feels like a great opportunity for me to move to the next level in my career and, hopefully, make a positive impact on the economic growth of greater St. Louis. ;-)

It might mean, though, I have even less time for thoughtful blogging. ;-(