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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

City to River Group Hits the Local Media

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


David Godbout said...

What are the results of the traffic flow/count studies (as I am certain the necessary research has been done for the conversation to have reached this point) concerning the amount of traffic daily - and especially at peak times - traveling north on I-55 and east on I-44 headed anywhere north of downtown on the Missouri side?

I travel that way several times a week in morning traffic; it seems to me that the delays with the interstate in place would dissuade the thought of completely removing that section of roadway.

Matt M. said...


Thanks for your comments.

I will likely do a post on more of the specifics soon. Without double-checking my sources, I believe the Avg. Daily Traffic count for this stretch is 75,000 vehicles.

If that sounds high, you have to remember that this section will no longer be I-70, officially. I-70 is moving north to the new bridge and continuing west at Cass.

An interstate-grade connection between the "new I-70" and the Poplar Street Bridge would deny St. Louisans something they deserve: a downtown not sliced apart by interstates, a downtown for pedestrians.

At at-grade connection is for ALL users--cyclists, pedestrians, cars, and even trucks. It would beautify the area and take less than 5 minutes to cross from the new I-70 to the PSB at off-peak times.

David Godbout said...


As an avid urbanist, I agree totally; I live in Benton Park and love the "radical" idea of connecting our great neighborhood with Soulard and the river front.

As a motorist (one of the 75,000 who lives south and travels north - and back from north to south to get home) I find myself contemplating the migration routes and traffic patterns.

Please keep the info coming.

Matt M. said...

Sure thing. Thanks for reading.

I understand the tensions between being an urbanist and a motorist all at once.

I actually had to drive the other day from Baltimore to Washington in the morning rush. What should have taken 50 minutes or so turned into 2 1/2 hours! I have never been so frustrate in my life. Even progressive D.C. residents are calling for another interstate to run through the city to ease the traffic. That said, D.C. also has a wonderful transit system. With worse traffic, I do wonder if St. Louis's transit system would improve as well.

Daron said...

DC - Baltimore needs express trains and express buses, as much as they need another highway.

As a non-driver for life, I find any time in a car frustrating, period.

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