With the Arch connector plan finalized, proponents of highway removal are wondering what happens next with the boulevard plan? Is the idea of removal of the I-70 barrier between downtown and the riverfront dead? Not really. The truth is, it's in about the same place it was three years ago when the idea first started getting serious attention.
Linking highway removal with the changes to the Arch always had one major obstacle: timing. Proponents of the remake to the Arch grounds and the lid connector set an October 2015 deadline for completion. There's no way highway removal could be completed by then, so in the world of the Arch remix, highway removal was a non-starter. Highway removal, or the boulevard, however you want to think of it, needs to be its own effort.
Which gets us to where we are today. We know that highway removal will not be part of the Arch 2015 plan. What we don't know is who or how the idea of highway removal happens. Who leads the effort? One thing we do know about St. Louis is that this place is an organization town. Things happen through people collaborating together through organizations, networks, and coalitions. Neither outspoken individuals nor blog posts will ever result in something like highway removal becoming reality.
The only local organization really pushing highway removal is "City to River". City to River has done a lot to raise awareness of the idea and generate support, but on its own, City to River is not enough. The organization needs more partners. The movement has to grow.
And why is that? Because for one thing, there is built-in opposition to the idea of highway removal. Topping the list is the way St. Louisans are resistant to change. Taking out a highway is a big change, so anyone leery of change is going to have big raised eyebrows on something like this. Next is what I like to refer to as the "Community of Commuters". The Community of Commuters is a sort of silent majority.
The Community of Commuters is powerful and comes from all over the region. The community of interest they share is the unfettered use of the highway and road system. Every day they get on the highway to go to work or make their daily trips to school, the doctor, you name it. They battle traffic and long commutes. They don't like to be delayed. They will be a big part of the larger discussion of highway removal, and elected officials and MODOT answer to them.
So where to go from here? For starters, supporters of highway removal need to be better organized and strengthen their network. By strengthening their numbers, supporters of highway removal start to build the critical mass it will take to get the attention of elected officials and highway departments. Until that time, the boulevard or the idea of downtown highway removal will be just that, an idea.
If you want to get more actively involved in the ongoing, working effort to remove I-70 from the downtown landscape, replacing it with an at-grade boulevard, one place to start is by contacting City to River and offering to become part of the organization. Contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Or contact the moderator of this blog and I will put you in touch with the organization.