Friday, June 27, 2008

The Case for a New Memorial Drive

The National Park Service is updating the management plan which governs the use of the Arch grounds. Now is the time to attend meetings and give public comment. The first meeting happened earlier this week, and the next meeting will be from 3:00 pm -6:30 pm on Tuesday, July 1, at the Old Court House.

The meetings are being held open house style, with professional planners from the consulting firm EDAW on hand facilitating the process and recording public input. In addition, planning and design professionals with the National Park Service are present.

I attended the meeting this week at Forest Park to help promote the idea of removing the depressed and elevated lanes of I-70 through downtown, and replace them with a new, landscaped Memorial Drive. Here are some of the possibilities we discussed:

NORTH SOUTH ORIENTATION - PARALLELS RIVERFRONT For years, St. Louis has been devising ways to turn our backs on the riverfront and remove people from downtown. Most major roads lead away from the river or follow an east-west orientation. Broadway, an important north-south running street, on the west side of the Old Court House and away from the riverfront and Arch grounds, would connect with an extension of Memorial Drive on the north side of downtown. Other than Broadway, the first major north-south running through street in downtown is Tucker, 12 blocks west of the river.

A new Memorial Drive recreates the entrance to our city, on a north-south axis parallel to the river, in a way that connects most of downtown's main anchors, including the Mississippi river. For years we have looked for ways to restore the city's connection to the Mississippi river, and a new Memorial Drive could make that happen, and a lot more.

CONNECTIVITY - A new Memorial Drive connects downtown assets and anchors: the Eads Bridge, the Dr. Martin Luther King Bridge, Washington Avenue, the Arch Grounds, exit and entrance ramps to the Poplar Street Bridge; Laclede's Landing, the Edward Jones Dome, the Old Cathedral, the Bottle District, the Riverfront, Lumiere Casino, the Old Court House, and downtown hotels.

VIEWS/DAYLIGHT - The elevated sections of I-70 adjacent to Laclede's Landing, the Edward Jones Dome and the proposed Bottle District block views of the Arch grounds, historic downtown architecture, and much more. Removal of the elevated lanes as part of the plan to rebuild Memorial Drive adds open space, improves views, enhances the walkability, and improves the overall experience of people downtown.

PARTNERS AND STAKEHOLDERS - A plan to improve Memorial Drive has many possible partners and stakeholders, including the Downtown Residents Association, the Partnership for Downtown, Downtown Now, Laclede's Landing, the National Park Service, Lumiere Casino, the Rams, the Cardinals, downtown hotels and businesses, downtown workers, city and regional residents and leaders, the RCGA, and others. Basically, anyone interested in the future and quality of life of downtown St. Louis is a potential partner in this effort.

TIMING - The sooner the better, or timed to coincide with the new Mississippi River Bridge.

LEVERAGES OTHER FEDERAL and LOCAL INVESTMENTS - The new Mississippi River Bridge will lessen traffic demands on the I-70 depressed lanes, and is bringing hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment to the St. Louis region, including a substantial federal share. A plan to rebuild Memorial Drive, made possible in part as a result of the new Mississippi River Bridge, leverages substantial public investment in the new bridge into additional benefits designed to enhance the quality of life for downtown St. Louis and the entire region.

NO SITE ACQUISITIONS OR DISPLACMENT - Unlike most major highway construction projects, this plan requires no private site acquisitions or displacement of existing businesses or residents - a major cost savings. Everything necessary to rebuild Memorial Drive can be accomplished on existing public rights of way. In fact, the National Park Service already owns the land under the depressed lanes and both sides of Memorial Drive adjacent to the Arch grounds.

OPENS NEW SITES FOR DEVELOPMENT - Rather than displacing businesses or residents, there is the real possibility that removal of the old interstate will open up new sites for development with excellent views of the Arch.

TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT - We have learned through the rebuilding of Highway 40 that the closing of an interstate highway doesn't automatically bring on Armageddon. We are surviving the 2-year shutdown of Interstate 64 pretty well.

A new Memorial Drive will make available increased north and south access through downtown, connect drivers to the new Mississippi River Bridge on the north and the Poplar Street Bridge and Interstates 44 and 55 on the south, and gives us the opportunity to fix the rush hour gridlock around the Old Court House by redesigning our traffic system along Memorial Drive.

Timing of signalized intersections along the new Memorial Drive based on peak and reduced traffic periods will minimize delays for traffic entering or exiting downtown during commute hours, while maximizing pedestrian access at all other times.

CONSTRUCTION CONSIDERATIONS - Building a new Memorial Drive and vacating the depressed lanes and removal of the elevated highway section next to Laclede's Landing is not as big an endeavor as it might sound. It's mostly demolition, fill, and the building of a new, landscaped, surface boulevard. There are no high cost bridges or tunnels, and no right of way acquisitions involved.

COST FACTORS - The biggest construction project underway in the St. Louis region is the rebuilding of a 10.9 mile stretch of Highway 40 from the City of St. Louis to Ballas Road in West St. Louis County. The total cost of the project is $535,000,000, with a $420,000,000 construction cost. The I-64 project includes demolishing and rebuilding 25 bridges over the highway, plus the massive reconstruciton of the 40/170 interchange.

The current proposal to build a 3-block lid over Memorial Drive is estimated to cost between $80,000,000 - $100,000,000. One reason for the high cost of the lid plan is that since 9/11, new safety standards for tunnels require extensive ventilation systems. For the same $80,000,000 - $100,000,000 (nearly a quarter the cost of the full I-64 rebuild), how much could we do to build a new Memorial Drive?

From a construction standpoint, since there are no bridges or tunnels to build, the project involves the demolition of the old highway sections, filling in the depressed lanes, and building the new section of Memorial Drive. More work is needed to design and engineer the project, however based on the information we have to date, it might be considerably less expensive to vacate the highway and rebuild Memorial Drive than building the 3-block lid over the depressed lanes.

FOLLOWING BEST PRACTICES - Other regions are improving their downtowns by the removal of highway sections cutting through the heart of their downtown areas. By replacing Interstate 70 with a new Memorial Drive, we would be following a proven strategy of successful urban revitalization, one that restores our connection to river.

LET'S FACE IT - THE CURRENT SITUATION STINKS Our downtown and the Arch deserve a lot better than the current configuration of Memorial Drive and I-70. Memorial Drive is dangerous, univiting and tired. I-70 forms either a moat or a wall dividing the Arch, Laclede's Landing, and the riverfront from the rest of St. Louis.

For one of the most beautiful manmade monuments on the planet, the Arch suffers from some, if not the worst, staging of any of them. No one benefits from the current situation - not visitors, not residents, not businesses, not anyone - well except perhaps for those drivers trying to get out of downtown St. Louis as fast as possible.

This is our opportunity to make a major change to the entire area. The change would be a dramatic improvement - the sort of thing that most people understand intuitively - they just think can't be done due to an assumption that the depressed lanes will always be there, but they don't have to be. Other regions have removed obsolete interstate highways from the heart of their downtowns, and we can too!

PROCESS - Ultimately, this is up to us. Senator Danforth is right when he states that for anything to happen in the effort to improve the access to the Arch Grounds and Riverfront, it will require the local community to buy in to the vision and work together. Key regulating agencies will be looking for a locally driven plan and financing strategy.

TRANSFORMATIONAL PROJECT - Over the past ten years, St. Louis has made phenomenal progress in revitalizing downtown. The removal of the depressed and elevated lanes of Interstate 70 through downtown, from the Poplar Street Bridge on the south to approximately Carr Street on the North, (roughly a one mile stretch), would be another huge step forward in our renaissance. A new Memorial Drive will give people entering downtown and approaching the Arch a true sense of arrival. Travelling a beautifully landscaped boulevard, visitors entering our city will see the Arch on one side and the Old Court House on the other.

Civic anchors will be connected. Daylight and views will be dramatically improved. New prime sites for development will be created. Not only will access to the Arch grounds be improved, but the overall connection between downtown, Laclede's Landing and the riverfront will be improved throughout a one-mile north-south section on the eastern edge of downtown.

Now is our time and this is our opportunity. Whatever we decide, we have this chance to make a major improvement to downtown, our riverfront and the Arch. We are in the planning and decision making phase now. St. Louis will live with the decisions we make today for the next 100-200 years, and for all of us around now, certainly the rest of our lives. If you love St. Louis and are excited about its future, this is an extremely important issue.

The next meeting to discuss the future of the Arch grounds is this coming Tuesday afternoon, July 1, at the Old Court House. If you like this idea or have other ideas about how to improve the Arch grounds, please attend the meeting or send your comments to the new Arch Superintendent, Tom Bradley, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, 11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO 63102.


Doug Duckworth said...

Excellent Mr. Bonasch!!!

Vanishing STL said...

Rick, Excellent synopsis! I have been thinking about this exact concept for some time myself, based on what San Francisco did with the Embarcadero, which was a double deck freeway and is now a beautiful parkway. I attended the open house Wednesday myself for the last half hour, and spoke to the comment takers about the concept. They said that several people had made similar suggestions. They seemed to think it was an interesting idea to explore. The fact that the Park Service actually owns the land under Memorial and the highway could be good if they are receptive to the idea, although they might not be for the commercial development aspect that I also desire. I had heard that you have discussed this idea as well, and have been meaning to contact you about it. Maybe several of us should get together to discuss the idea.

Unknown said...

Great ideas, Rick. Everyone in town should read these suggestions; I don't think most people can envision how much this area could be improved, and how cheaply, by doing the kinds of things you suggest. You should certainly try to get this published as an editorial in the Post-Dispatch!

Anonymous said...

What a great idea!!! You should contact as many of your fellow bloggers and the news media on these ideas.

Anonymous said...


I've always liked an open space connecting the riverfront to downtown. However, I'm confused. Are you saying the depressed lanes and elevated lanes would be eliminated? If so, what happens to the connections between 44/55 and 70? Do they just dump into new memorial drive?

Couldn't lid be put over depressed lanes and accomplish same thing?


Rick Bonasch said...

Actually, no. The largest lid idea being considered covers only three blocks. It leaves many of the depressed lanes exposed and doesn't change anything with the elevated lanes cutting off Washington Avenue and Laclede's Landing from the riverfront and downtown respectively.

With the depressed and elevated lanes replaced with a new, at grade Memorial Drive, circulation would work like this:

70 is being rerouted out of the depressed lanes to the new bridge

70 connects east and west over the new Mississippi River bridge, north of downtown.

55 crosses the Mississippi into Illinois via the Poplar Street Bridge.

44 terminates into a new Memorial Drive.

Drivers entering downtown from Illinois on 55 across the PSB would exit onto Memorial Drive as they do now.

Drivers entering downtown on the new Mississippi River Bridge would have multiple options heading south, including a new Memorial Drive.

Southside drivers heading north on 55 and 44 entering downtown would meet the new Memorial Drive and have multiple points for making turns into downtown along Memorial Drive.

Southside drivers heading north on 55 and 44 planning to pass through downtown would meet the new Memorial Drive, travel 15 or so blocks, and then be able to reconnect with 70 up near the new Mississippi bridge.

Getting back to the other part of your question, the answer is yes: the depressed lanes and elevated lanes would be eliminated and replaced with a new Memorial Drive.

MoDOT is dropping the name I-70 south of the new bridge project down through the depressed lanes. The current plan is to rename Interstate 70 at the depressed lanes Interstate 44 and then connect them with westbound 70.

Eastbound 44 becomes westbound 70.

With the new bridge project always in doubt, the assumption was that the depressed lanes would always be there. With the new bridge now funded and under development, the assumptions have changed.

Given the change in factors, it makes sense to commission a traffic study to determine the feasibility of vacating the depressed and elevated lanes and rebuilding Memorial Drive.

With the number of people at the NPS hearings bringing up this same idea, the NPS could take the lead on performing the traffic study as part of the federally required National Environmental Policy Act environmental review process.

This would be a good time to get St. Louis leaders, concerned residents, MoDOT, and other stakeholders all around the table to examine the possibilities.

To really get a sense of the dramatic transformation such a project would make, stand at the proposed Bottle District site and look towards the Arch and Laclede's Landing. Imagine the elevated lanes removed, a new landscaped parkway/boulevard in its place, with unobstructed views connecting the Arch, downtown and Laclede's Landing.

Rick Bonasch

Unknown said...

This is exciting. How can I as a concerned citizen best help move us forward toward this end? Also, are you aware of any renderings, as primitive as they may be, of such a concept?



Rick Bonasch said...

At this time there are no renderings or cost estimates for a project to rebuild Memorial Drive.

There is talk of organizing a design competition. The NEPA process for the update of the Arch management plan may lead to cost estimates of various alternatives.

The best way to get involved for now is to promote the idea with your neighbors, family and friends. For something like this to happen, it's going to take a call to action from the community at large.

Anonymous said...

This comment is from Steve Patterson's redirection to this thread from his own on the same topic, and any not aware of Steve's post may also want to check that out: I believe a design competition is obviously in order, and then it's a matter of determining who would administer and then broadcast entry results, award any prizes and such. A competition is a must if the process to a solution is to be seen as a reflection of the concerns and desires of those who live in and visit this city.

Anonymous said...

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