Friday, April 30, 2010

MoDOT to Arch Design Teams: "We are open to highway removal"

From a recent "Road Crew" Live Chat at STL Today comes the following Q and A with local highway officials including MoDOT Spokesperson, Linda Wilson:

Pat: "There has been a lot talk about possibly removing the section of Interstate 70 downtown when the new Mississippi River Bridge is finished. It could potentially revitalize a lot of the St. Louis riverfront with more pedestrian friendly areas and more commercial space if it was removed.

How opposed is MoDot to removing that section of I-70 in the future? I have heard reasons against the removal because people coming from 55 can't go to north st. louis and vice-versa (which makes sense). Has MoDot done or will they do any studies determining how much the removal of that section would affect drivers? Does MoDot take into account the possible benefits a removal could have for downtown St. Louis?"

Linda Wilson, Todd Waelterman and David Wrone: "Our district engineer is serving on the technical advisory committee for the Arch contest. Our position is that after we build the new Mississippi River bridge downtown, there will still be a demand of 50,000+ vehicles per day to drive the section of highway that runs in front of the Arch. Some of that traffic is north-south driving from north county to south county or vice versa. It does serve as an alternate north-south to I-270. The other significant portion of traffic is people who go to and from work in downtown St. Louis every day. We have told the groups that if they can develop a plan to accommomdate how these 50,000+ vehicles can get through, we are open to looking at it".

Linda Wilson, MoDOT

7 comments:

Ben said...

Sounds somewhat promising Rick, and that MoDOT has lobbed the ball back in City to River's court. What's their next step? Are they working with anyone who might be willing and able to fund a comprehensive traffic study (which would be very expensive for a project of this magnitude)? I'm assuming that hasn't already occurred . . .

Rick Bonasch said...

Ben, you are correct. There has been no traffic study for highway removal. There has been a study looking at the potential for closing Memorial Drive.

Now that we're fully engaged in the design competition, the ball is in the design teams' court.

As far as traffic goes, what we have is a sort of conundrum, wrapped up in a dilemma, boxed in wrapping paper, and shrink wrapped for packaging in a puzzle.

None of the sponsors have done a study to determine the feasibility of highway removal because at this point no one is proposing highway removal or a study of same. Presumably, that part of the role of the design teams.

The good news is, as MoDOT says, highway removal is a possible design solution open to the teams. The mission of City to River is to advocate for improved physical connections between the riverfront, the Arch grounds, and downtown.

Keeping highway removal on the table is a positive outcome at this early stage in the process. Now it's up to the teams to come up with their best connection strategies. Maybe they'll propose highway removal; maybe they won't.

So it's possible a traffic study would part of a design team's proposal. Most, if not all, of the teams have traffic engineers on board, so they are equipped to analyze traffic concerns.

If a team proposes highway removal, MoDOT says it will be up to them to demonstrate how the plan works.

If there's a role for City to River to play in working with the design teams to further analyze the potential for highway removal, I am sure the organization would be interested in working with the teams and other stakeholders in any way possible.

Contact info for City to River is info@citytoriver.org

11:21 AM

Ben said...

Thanks Rick. I misinterpreted the reference to "groups" by Ms. Wilson. I thought she was referring to those advocating highway removal (e.g., City to River), not the design teams.

Rick Bonasch said...

I should add that 50,000 cars per day is not that huge of a number. It's not that much higher than the traffic on Kingshighway at Barnes Hospital and the Champs Elysee carries 80,000 cars per day and is the hot spot in Paris.

Imagine a pedestrian friendly, busy urban street connecting the Arch, riverfront, and downtown, one that ran from the Poplar Street Bridge to the new Mississippi River bridge.

The new boulevard would be an exciting place, with connections to downtown and the city's main attractions, including the Arch.
Traffic on the downtown street grid is good for the city.

The boulevard does that. A boulevard gets people into downtown. There would be no need for directional signage pointing you towards downtown. You will have arrived. So maybe you're more inclined to stay awhile?

Drivers on a highway don't stay - they're just passing through!

Kevin Barbeau said...

Rick, are the proposals of the groups (that of the eventual winner, to be exact) open to revision after it's accepted? The complete removal of the I-70 corridor is a fairly new idea - strengthened by the agreement to build the new Mississippi River Bridge -and one that wasn't as feasible when the design competition began.

I guess what I'm asking is, even if the winning plan doesn't call for it, could strong public support make it happen anyway?

Also, I wanted to let you know about my new blog, Yet Another St. Louis Blog (yastlblog.blogspot.com). And sorry everybody who's seen this message on other blogs -- I'm trying not to be *too* spammy about it...

Rick Bonasch said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for the heads up to your blog. I will check it out.

As far as revisions being made to the winning design, I suppose everything is subject to revision and that even the winning design will probably see some changes.

That said, I don't see something as major as highway removal being something that would be changed after selection of the winning entry, especially when you consider that one of the biggest aspects of the competition is to restore connectivity between downtown and the riverfront/Arch grounds.

All the designers will come up with some kind of plan to reconnect the area. One of the designs will be chosen and the ultimate goal is that the community lines up in support of making the winning plan happen.

Now, I think a phased strategy is possible, one that proposes highway removal, but only once the new bridge is complete.

October 2015 is the finish line for completing improvements according to the winning design. It will be hard for any plan to meet that timeframe.

We should not constrain our community from having a great plan because elements might need an additional 12=24 months to complete. That wouldn't make a lot of sense.

We need to arrive at a great plan, raise the money, and build it in a timely manner. October 2015 is a date to rally around, and we should all work towards that date. If some of the concrete isn't dry until 2016 or 2017, we shouldn't beat ourselves over the head about it.

Let's face it: St. Louis will be living with these decisions for fifty to one hundred years

Matt Stegeman said...

Rick,

This looks like a step in the right direction for MoDOT. Previously, it seemed as though the most formidable opposition to highway removal could come from the DOT, given its responsibility to ensure safe and effective traffic flow through the area and its intent to rechristen the depressed and elevated lanes as an extension of I-44. While everything still seems to hinge on the traffic study (and, of course, the results of the design competition), I'm gradually becoming more bullish on the possibility of a new Memorial Drive.

Without a doubt, City to River has been instrumental in organizing this level of government and outside support for "reopening St. Louis' front door." Thank you for all your personal efforts to make St. Louis a better place to live, and I hope your work comes to fruition between the city and the Arch.