Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A New Memorial Drive for 1/3 the Cost of Lid or Less?

In the middle of a bad economy with federal earmarks on the chopping block, it's not a good time to be talking about how to finance significant public infrastructure projects. Nonetheless, let's be positive that our economy will improve in the months or quarters to come, and that we will move forward on regional infrastructure priorities.

Part of the task of promoting any development plan is to make the case based on financial feasibility. Beautiful drawings without a financing strategy are not worth much. It will be critical for supporters of any plan to improve access to the Arch and riverfront to figure out how to pay for it.

However, we have some information to work with. We know the cost of the Highway 64 rebuild is $420,000,000 in construction and $535,000,000 total. It's eleven miles, with 25 bridges, including rebuilding the 170 interchange.

The projected cost of the Lid over the depressed lanes is about $80-90 million in construction, plus another $20 million to endow a maintainance fund. Total cost in the $100-120 million range.

However, there's another cost to the Lid option. Keeping the depressed lanes open involves the long term maintenance of the viaduct/channel. We know the difficulty and expense of these situations - just consider the Gravois and Chippewa viaducts in South City. They are the source of regular "Towntalk" complaints.

As viaducts age, their maintenance gets more expensive. Would the Lid rebuild the walls of the depressed lanes? Based on information available to date, long term maintenance of the depressed lanes appears to be outside the scope of the Lid budget.

Second, the elevated lanes of I-70 past Laclede's Landing are due for seismic retrofitting. These are also high cost efforts. Building a new Memorial Drive could save both depressed lane maintenance costs as well as seismic retrofitting of the elevated sectios of I-70.

At less than one tenth the cost of Highway 64 expansion, the new Memorial Drive could come in under $40,000,000, or about a 1/3 the Lid option.

From a fiscal perspective, is the new Memorial Drive a potential less is more opportunity?

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