The future of the Arch grounds and its connection with downtown St. Louis are being decided. The process has been a long one and it's hard to tell how engaged the public is in this mega effort. The total cost of the end product is sure to exceed $500,000,000.
It's been about 6 months since the completion of the Arch design competition. The competition was more an idea competition than a firm determination. A winning team was selected, but much of the detail of the design was left very open. We really haven't seen a final product.
Nontheless, today the process takes a major step forward. Today is the deadline for public comments on the National Park Service's environmental review of the proposed Arch project. But it doesn't close the door on the process. While today ends the NPS review, there's an even bigger decision coming: the future of the highway system surrounding the Arch.
Given that the biggest knock on the Arch is the way it is cut off from downtown by highway infrastructure, it's unfortunate that the highway planning process is separate from the larger Arch environmental review. Or is it? It's hard to say. Is the public supposed to connect Arch plan comments with highway change comments? It's unclear.
There have been no firm plans released to the public for proposed highway changes. There have been no cost estimates. So it's difficult to make an informed comment about how highway changes will impact the future of downtown and the Arch.
It's possible the future highway may feature a substantially widened trench between the northern half of the Arch grounds and downtown. Unfortunately you would not know that from any of the information provided through the Arch design competition. The design competition did not focus on the problems created by the highway.
This is a big deal. The highway has long been identified as the greatest barrier between downtown, the Arch grounds, and the riverfront. The public is being asked to comment on the environmental review of the plans for the Arch. But there has been no official information released about plans or costs for changes to the highway surrounding the Arch.
The highway constrains the Arch site today, and the highway planning process appears to have a constraining effect on the planning effort for the future of the Arch as well.
To make your comment on the environmental review for the Arch (deadline today), visit the National Park Service page for that purpose here.