Thursday, September 01, 2011

More Money Than Mystery

Arch project could be in line for federal infrastructure funding, but is it “shovel ready”?

One week from today, President Obama will outline his jobs plan for the country, and it is expected that the centerpiece of the plan will be major investments in the nation’s infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that for every billion dollars in infrastructure spending, 35,000 US jobs are created. St. Louis could use some of that funding.

Meanwhile, as Congress debates federal domestic spending, the news is reporting that the Iraq war has seen between $35 and 60 billion in US tax dollars completely wasted as a result of fraud, waste, poor planning, and abuse. That doesn't count any of the actual costs of fighting the war.

Here in St. Louis, we have one huge potential infrastructure project right under our noses: the remaking of the Arch grounds and its connections to downtown, the riverfront, and the Illinois bank. The project is intended to have a transformative effect on the region and promises to create thousands of St. Louis area jobs.

Cost estimates for the project have ranged from $350,000,000 - $700,000,000, a tiny sum compared to the waste going on in the war in Iraq. But will St. Louis get the funding? Is the Arch project ready? How do we make sure we take advantage of this rare opportunity where funding, local and national priorities, and planning are all converging?

The National Park Service is completing the planning process for the Arch project. Public comments on the environmental review closed Tuesday. Meanwhile, MODOT is completing its own planning work on possible highway changes surrounding the Arch, including the possibility of closing Memorial Drive, adding new north and south bound highway ramps in the depressed lanes, and building a new lid to connect the Old Court House to the Arch.

The lid plan has been studied for a long time. The Danforth Foundation spent over $2,000,000 and determined the lid as originally conceived would not be feasible without major changes to the management of the Arch. The Danforth study was the catalyst triggering the National Park Service's update to the General Management Plan (GMP) for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

That GMP update was completed in 2010, with the preferred alternative calling for an international design competition to update the management and improvements of the park. The cost of the new General Management Plan and the Arch design competition was over $1,000,000.

Recently it was announced that federal funding will be provided to complete the studies and plans for the long awaited Lid project. While the final programming for the Arch project is still unclear, one thing does seem certain: the Lid over the depressed lanes is something most people want to happen.

The cost of the Lid is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $60,000,000. That number is likely to increase by the time of final design and construction to possibly in excess of $100,000,000.

Ultimately, a list will be created. That list will be for a Congressional appropriation and have a budget. St. Louis will be working to get projects on the list. The list will have a lot of big ticket items from all around the country.

What should St. Louis work to get on the list? If the big push in a federal jobs program is infrastructure spending, the door may be opening for St. Louis to go big on its plans. Liberals are encouraging President Obama to go big on his jobs plan, and maybe its time for St. Louis to think big on its effort to reconnect downtown to the Arch and riverfront.

While the lid provides a one to three block connection between the Arch and the Old Court House area, why not bury the highway, build a boulevard over the buried highway, and really restore the connections of the downtown street grid leading to the Arch and the riverfront?

With just a billion or two of all the money being wasted in Iraq, we could really transform downtown St. Louis.

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