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Thoughts on St. Louis’ Proposed Riverfront Makeover, Lid Over I-70 and Mississippi River Bridge

August 2, 2005 Planning & Design, Politics/Policy 13 Comments

Three separate public spending projects are being planned that have a direct affect on downtown St. Louis. These are a new riverfront streetscape design, a lid over I-70 to connect the Arch grounds to downtown and a new Mississippi bridge to relieve congestion on the Poplar Street Bridge (aka PSB). I’ve got a solution that will help solve issues with all three. But first lets look at each project.

I detailed my thoughts on the Riverfront on July 1st so I won’t elaborate here. The St. Louis Business Journal ran a story yesterday entitled, ‘Danforth Foundation to fund downtown “lid” study’, which gives good coverage of the issues around the project. No question that trying to walk from downtown to the Arch is a nightmare. Interstate I-70 and Memorial Drive are just not pedestrian or bicycle friendly.

Back on January 3rd I did a long post on the proposed river bridge. I started off my piece with:

“Road happy Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have for ten years been designing a New River Bridge to cross the Mississippi at downtown. More correctly, the approach on the Missouri side will manage to destroy some great warehouses on North Broadway and sever any possible connection between Old North St. Louis and the downtown loft district.”

Basically I argued against building the bridge at all. With the coming ‘peak oil crisis‘ I think traffic will be less of an issue just because we, as a society, won’t be able to afford to drive as much or transport goods via truck. But, at this point convincing people that we don’t need a bridge is like convincing Rick Santorum that two men marrying won’t hurt his marriage. So I’ll go along with the new bridge but only with a couple of caveats.

[Photo from the 8/2/05 public meeting showing the proposed “North Interchange” would slice through the existing street grid with no regard to the city. Sorry for the color of the picture.]

My main caveat is that I want the spaghetti of lanes and on/off ramps (shown above) to simply be abandoned. First, this design dates back to the day when a highway/parkway was planned on the West edge of downtown — connecting I-44 to I-70. You can see remnants of this to the West of Union Station where ramps to/from I-64 end at nothing. With development in Lafayette Square and along Washington Avenue it is clear we are not going to see such a highway. This is a good thing as such a loop would have isolated downtown from the rest of the city. But it seems the folks working on the proposed Mississippi River Bridge never got the memo that the rest of the loop highway has been abandoned.

The proposal would cut a massive tunnel extending to 14th Street – a tunnel that would divide Old North St. Louis from the rest of downtown. In 2005 we don’t need to be further dividing one part of the city from other. In fact, we need to do the opposite by reconnecting areas that have been cut off from another during the last 50 years or so.

I attended the public meeting tonight on the new bridge. While the consultants from URS Corporation were helpful none could tell me the numbers of vehicles expected across the new bridge vs. the PSB. But I did manage to get the basic concept. I-70 in Illinois would be redirected across the new bridge so that traffic on this highway can avoid the existing PSB. This includes truck traffic heading West on I-70 toward Kansas City and vice versa. I got the distinct impression this new bridge has little to do with getting workers into downtown St. Louis. No, this bridge is about making it easier for East/West traffic on I-70. This, the theory goes, will free up capacity on the PSB that downtown workers will use. Yes, some will use the new bridge to get downtown because it will be more convenient from where they are coming in Illinois. Based on the design, if you are coming any highway in Illinois and want to go West on I-70 it will make sense to use the new bridge rather than the PSB.

Again the point is we don’t need half the bridge capacity directed to 14th Street just a few blocks North of the pedestrian intersection at Washington Avenue. It is time to acknowledge we are not building a West loop around downtown so the bridge proposal needs to be rethought. That is the stage they are in now but mostly due to budget constraints. I think if they had their $1.6 billion in hand they’d be ready to destroy our street grid in the name of progress. Thankfully highway money just doesn’t appear like it used to.

I think most people will agree that we can have the new bridge to get I-70 traffic off the PSB bridge and we don’t need all the capacity going into North St. Louis. Who knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars can be saved? Regardless of money, I think we need to save our street grid for connectedness. They’ve got a few more public meetings at this stage of the game. In September we are supposed to see a presentation on a revised and cheaper bridge. If you want to share your thoughts on the new bridge you can email the project managers at info@newriverbridge.org.

But here is where this project can relate to the lid over I-70 at the Arch and the riverfront. Stick with me on this one…

I want to remove the existing I-70 between the current Poplar Street Bridge and the new bridge.


You read correct, I want to remove the existing highway between the bridges. This will collectively solve a number of issues.

Think of San Francisco’s Embarcadero shown at right. Where a double decker highway once divided downtown San Francisco from their piers is now a palm tree lined boulevard with a center island dedicated to street cars. SF’s 1989 earthquake collapsed a similar double decker highway across the bay in Oakland, killing 42 people. A section of the bay bridge collapsed. The highway in SF was also damaged. The decision to remove it became an obvious choice after much debate.

St. Louis will not have any such natural disaster to convince us to remove the highway dividing us from our river. While this seems radical at first, it is logical if you think about it. I-64 traffic will continue to use the PSB. I-70 traffic can use the new bridge. Do we really need to connect the two together downtown?

So imagine the existing I-70 removed from the PSB to the new bridge (North of Laclede’s Landing & the proposed Bottle District). In its place a wide and grand boulevard lined with trees and shops. The adjacent street grid is reconnected at every block. Pedestrians can easily cross the boulevard not only at the Arch but anywhere along the distance between the bridges. Eads Bridge and the King Bridge both land cars onto the boulevard and into then dispersed into the street grid. The money it would take to cover I-70 for 3 blocks in front of the Arch can go much further not trying to cover an interstate highway. Joining the riverfront and Laclede’s Landing to the rest of downtown will naturally draw people down Washington Avenue to the riverfront.

In one bold decision we can take back our connection to the river that shaped our city. The decision must be made now. The interchange for the new bridge is being designed now — we’ve only got one chance to get it right. Similarly, the lid project in front of the Arch could shift to a removed I-70 and connecting boulevard design before we are too far along the current path.

We are at a crossroads at this point with three major projects involving billions of dollars and affecting St. Louis for at least the next half century. Removing I-70 would, in twenty years, be seen as a pivotal decision. Will our government leaders have the courage to make such a decision?

– Steve


Currently there are "13 comments" on this Article:

  1. Those are some very good ideas.

    I am always under the impression that the larger the project, the further away from reality it gets. Too often these projects end up trying to please too many interests, few of them being the citizens of the city.

    Perhaps the resurgence in residents and visitors downtown will keep the concept of form and logic in the minds of the planners. Too often simple, uninspired work gets signed off on when with just a little effort, vision and a bit more work, a greater whole can be created.

    It’s often the blind men and the elephant.

  2. rick says:

    One of the best things about closing I-70 in front of the Arch is the way it would reduce traffic volume of Memorial Drive.

    Your ChampsDylesse (not even gonna try on the spelling…) makeover for Memorial Drive might just work…

    But since it’s all probably 10-15 years off, what about a compromise? ..We close Memorial Drive between the Old Court House and the Arch in the meantime 😉


    [REPLY – Rick you are going to need to let go of simply closing Memorial Drive as a temporary measure. First, the rest of the street grid has been messed up so badly that it needs to be reopened and changed to two-way streets before we can remove traffic from Memorial. Second, an empty Memorial Drive would be just that – empty. This would look far worse, to visitors, that a not so friendly pedestrian crossing. Memorial Drive needs to stay open until we can get other factors in place first. – Steve]

  3. Ron says:

    Steve this makes too much sense, but I’m afraid there might be too many players with diverging interests to make this happen. Also, there’s a timing issue. If Senator Danforth’s recommendations regarding the riverfront and the I70 lid are due next year, we may be too late to stop the new interchange. How can we organize to make sure this idea is given its fair consideration?

  4. Doesn’t the rendering of the ramps above still show the 14th Street connector? Or is it removed from this rendering, leaving a still-devastating and pointless series of lanes aimed at 14th Street?

    Paging Rollin Stanley…

    [REPLY – Yes, the drawing has not changed. This meeting was basically to say, “We are going to look at these areas again to save money.” We are supposed to see revised plans in late September. – Steve]

  5. Brian says:

    Steve’s picture shows to only Tucker/13th/N.Florisssant at its top (west) and I-70 at its bottom (east). While it does look like spaghetti, a lot is being done to preserve north-south and east-west connectivity of area streets. Currently, 9th and 10th are one-ways treated like on/off ramps from I-70 as there are exits there now that would be removed. Thus, while Old North St. Louis would be cut off some from Downtown, Columbus Square and environs would lose their despised cut-through traffic.

    And all of this spaghetti avoids landmark buildings. The old Cass bank buildings are safe, and Neighborhood Gardens are over a block away. Most of the buildings within the path of ramps and roads are 20th century cookie-cutter warehouses.

    Plus, Old North STL is benefitting in a new full interchange at St. Louis Avenue (Madison and 10th Street exits being removed). And having been cut off by highways didn’t ultimately prevent areas like Soulard and Lafayette Square from coming back.

    Finally, if you’ve driven the cluster-f* between the Convention Center and the Eads and MLK bridges, you’d see why an extension to Tucker is needed. Otherwise, the new bridge will only be used by I-70 traffic, not downtown-bound traffic. The loft district and western downtown will be greatly served by the Tucker connection. But I would even admit that going beyond Tucker to 14th doesn’t seem cost-effective or necessary.

  6. “Most of the buildings within the path of ramps and roads are 20th century cookie-cutter warehouses.”

    That’s simply not true. Some of them are 19th century buildings and all of them are unique. Most of them meet City landmark criteria, if not National Register eligibility.

    Furthermore, nothing like them will ever be built again. That’s reason enough to save them.

  7. Brian says:

    Selection of the routing for the Tucker ramps had to negotiate through a lot of historic properties. Given the choices, some brick warehouses might be lost, but ultimately the list of those buildings avoided is far longer, including:

    Sunshine Mission
    Cass Bank (Greyhound Bus Station)
    St. Joseph’s Church
    Columbus Square Apartments
    Patrick Henry School
    St. Patrick’s Church
    Cochran Gardens Housing & Community Center
    Neighborhood Gardens Apartments
    Fire House #?
    Saints Cycril & Methodius Church & Historic Dist.
    Webster School
    Mullanphy Historic District

    [REPLY – Nobody has yet proven we need to have this long series of ramps cutting multiple blocks into the city. The traffic has to get to the grid at some point so why not put it into the grid earlier? Saving landmarks without context is useless. For example, everything around the old Cass Bank Building would be destroyed – save for the KFC across the street. The bank would be an island surrounded by ramps. Why bother at that point. The warehouses to the North of the Cass Bank are not landmarks but are certain nice buildings.

    What about the woman that I met last night whos family home is to be razed? The house has been in her family for generations.

    This is leftover from decades past. It is time to cut the cord. – Steve]

  8. Brian says:

    A grid looks nice, but does not necessarily function best in all situations. Right now, there are two x-bridges over I-70 that were intended to maintain the near northside’s grid, at Cass/7th and Howard/9th. Since each of these intersections are over I-70, the grid here fails. There are no corner stores, homes or anything but bridges.

    However, the new street connections proposed within the spaghetti picture, albeit curvilinear streets, actually allows development to occur about these new streets, unlike their “grid” predecessors over I-70.

    Another option was to have totally elevated structures, akin to US 40 on the southern edge of downtown. Sure, the grid could be maintained below, but the towering structure would have much more psychologically cut off Old North STL. Instead, the current design is lowered into the landscape to minimize this concern. Granted, that means going from 3 north-south streets to 2, and from 3 east-west streets to 2, but surely, as the existing Cass/7th and Howard/9th bridges show (to be modified in new design), a “grid” on paper doesn’t necessarily mean pedestrian-friendly or an urban streetscape.

  9. Chris says:

    I live over on the Il side in Granite City, and find what you are saying to be understandable. I dont know if you have ever went over the eads bridge in a car, but I havent, for one, you have to go into East St.Louis, lots of potholes and the such and THEN get onto the bridge. No wonder they can just close it off to traffic like they do for special occasions. I have not spent alot of time in Downtown, eventhough My wife and I spent our honeymoon in St.Louis stayed in the Adams Mark, went to the Cards game and “Visited” St.Louis. Anyway, I really hope they dont rip apart the streets the way that picture looks, that would not be a good thing for people that already have a hard time getting around down there.

  10. rick says:

    I drive the Eads Bridge to meetings in ESL once or twice a week. It is by far the quickest, smoothest, most direct route from DT into ESL. Why wouldn’t it be?

    Wash Ave is the direct connect.


  11. Brian says:

    The new relocated IL Rte. 3 from Venice to Sauget will provide direct access to the Eads Bridge. This will give Granite folks like Chris improved access to downtown. But of course, the new I-70 and the new river bridge will also have access off of IL 203, just north of the Speedway in Madison. Thus, Tri-Cities area really will have greatly enhanced access and options for driving to/from our City. This is partially why the Eads can be reduced in driving lanes with wider bike-ped access once the new river bridge opens.

  12. I still don’t see why the exiting traffic cannot enter the grid immediately. Cass Avenue is wide and never congested — it can handle additional traffic easily. Cass hits Tucker and then 14th Street (already the victim of uesless re-routing and widening for “anticipated traffic” that never arrived) within a few blocks of I-70.

    While maintaining the grid at intersections like Howard & 9th doesn’t allow for development or visual beauty, it does accomplish the important goal of allowing for circulation. I find the existing intersections over I-70 helpful when I am walking — I don’t have to go blocks out of my way to get to a destination just three blocks away. While my walking is recreational, there are countless people who live on the near northside who walk to jobs on North Broadway and the raised intersections help.

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