KMOV (Channel 4) has covered the City to River group's proposal to tear down a portion of Interstate 70 soon to be redundant with the construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge. Watch their coverage above or read the transcript here.
The only problem is that they failed to explicitly mention this--that I-70 will be rerouted over the new bridge and that a new at-grade, urban Memorial Drive would not be replacing I-70 at all in any official capacity. KMOV opened by labeling the proposal a "radical idea".
Also, the reporter interviewed a MODOT official who claimed the agency had "severe reservations" about removing any portion of I-70. See the video above. MODOT is open to tunneling the depressed lanes of the soon-to-be-former I-70, but not demolishing the whole 1.4 mile stretch in favor of an urban boulevard.
Where do I begin?
Removing a redundant piece of an interstate is not a "radical idea" in my book. The transformation of the area would be radical in the physical sense, if that was what was meant. But the notion itself is rather, well, sensible. The Archgrounds International Design Competition is underway and has provided funding for making better connections to the Arch and surrounding neighborhoods--not just the four blocks where the depressed section runs. It makes sense to remove the barrier between Laclede's Landing and the rest of downtown and to create a nexus of activity in the Memorial's center. An urban Memorial Drive would pull visitors from Laclede's Landing southward and allow them to much more easily, and with much more urbane surroundings, reach the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse.
Furthermore, as mentioned, the new Mississippi River Bridge will carry the new I-70 route, which will now enter the city of St. Louis at Cass Avenue rather than the Poplar Street Bridge. Funding is in place and the bridge is being constructed. Now is the time to capitalize on the fact that this 1.4 mile stretch is simply redundant and not needed. Current plans indicate that MODOT will simply rechristen the old I-70 lanes as I-44, extending it northward from its terminus at I-55. To me, it's a radical idea not to remove this ugly barrier at such an opportune time.
Now for MODOT. How exactly is any 1.4 mile stretch of road absolutely necessary to the region's transportation network? Okay, maybe turning I-270 into an urban boulevard would be a ridiculous proposal, but a small run of a road at the convergence of several interstates? That's a bit of a different proposal. There's simply no way of arguing that a new Memorial Drive with even a 30 mile per hour speed limit could not accommodate traffic attempting to travel the 1.4 miles to either I-55 or I-64 from the new I-70 landing at Cass Avenue.
At an average rate of even 20 miles per hour (factoring in a stop light or two and clear traffic), it would take just 4.2 minutes to make it from one end of the new Memorial Drive to the other. Trucks heading northbound from I-55 could choose to either cross the river twice to reach I-70 without using surface roads or simply proceed north on Memorial Drive.
Our region has an incredibly dense network of interstates for its size. Some urbanists, including me, believe more than just this 1.4 mile segment of I-70 should be studied and considered for removal as well. (How about looking into reconnecting Soulard and Benton Park by "boulevardizing" I-55 from Lemp to the Poplar Street Bridge? Now that would be in the realm of "radical".) But that is for another time. City to River's proposal is smart and sensible, looking to improve our city at a low cost to all us, who'll enjoy the project's many benefits.
The New Memorial Drive, at Spruce looking eastward toward Busch Stadium. Image Courtesy of City to River
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