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Mississippi River Bridge: Last Option is the Best Option

A proposed new bridge across the Mississippi River is back in the news of late. Missouri and Illinois still cannot agree on how to pay for the bridge “now estimated to cost between $999 million and $1.76 billion.” (P-D 2/1/07). Call me a synic but if they are estimating such a range I’m going to go with the high end or better when the final bill is paid. In no way do I believe that it would come in under a billion. I’m going to go with $1.5 billion.

So we have several choices: the big highway bridge, a more cost-effective “coupler” built near the existing King Bridge and lastly we have a proposal to fix some of the existing interchanges, a new I-64 interchange in Illinois and redo parts of Illinois Route 3. The feds have already earmarked $239 million for the bridge project — money that presumably can go for this work. Interestingly, these little third option strategies are all items that need to be done anyway. I say stop wasting time on the bridge debate and get to work on fixing the areas that need fixing. Get the bottleneck areas resolved. Is this too short term and not the long-range planning I prefer we do? Perhaps.

I still question the “need” for a new bridge, especially one costing over a billion dollars to construct. Keep in mind that the old McKinley bridge will be reopening for traffic (including cyclists) in September connecting just north of downtown to Illinois Route 3 to Granite City and Madison County. This combined with the King Bridge and Eads Bridge into downtown can handle considerable local traffic. The new bridge as proposed will, in my view, simply shift sprawl from the Western edge of our region (St. Charles County) to the far Eastern edge of the region. Proponents say this will help re-center the City of St. Louis within the region. I suppose that is true, but so would curbing the sprawl through various Smart Growth measures employed by other regions. A billion or so would do wonders in the region for curbing sprawl and building more localized transit.

Frankly, if someone wants to buy a big house way out in Illinois and doesn’t like the traffic on I-64 they have several choices. One, move closer so the drive is not so long. They can get off the highway and take local streets that will get them across the river on other bridges besides the Poplar Street Bridge (aka the PSB). They can utilize the excellent MetroLink light rail system that serves a good portion of St. Clair County in Illinois or bus service to the city from Madison County Transit. Perhaps Illinois with its substantial transportation funding could help out Madison County by helping fund their proposed MetroLink extension.

This bridge, if finally built will not grow our region. It will simply shift suburban sprawl around a bit — a zero sum gain for the region. And simply put, the more lanes you build the more volume will increase putting you right back where you started at some point. As we’ve seen in the past, the city will remain a pass-through. Let’s fix the areas that need fixing and then work on moving people & jobs closer to the center — both in Illinois and Missouri.


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brent says:

    We always talk about commuters, jobs, and people living in Illinois or Missouri with this bridge issue, but as someone who has lived in Illinois and worked in St. Louis AND lived in St. Louis and worked in Illinois, I can tell you this isn’t just about sprawl and suburbs. Our bottlenecks wouldn’t be half as obvious if it weren’t also for the trucks that line up and slow down traffic 24 hours a day. Like it or not, highways are a part of commerce in this world, and to continue to grow, either inward or outward, a proper interstate bridge will help make this a more smoothly operating city.

    I’d love to see $1 billion spent on extending metrolink, or towards improving neighborhoods to make this a more desirable place to live and work, but as long as people want huge cheaply-built houses with yards and our nation continues to rely on ground transportation for so much, we’re going to be wishing for bridges. I say build the big one and do it right.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Oh yes, the truck argument.  This is like our unused billion dollar airport runway — by the time the bridge would actually open we will see a huge drop off in truck transportation due to rising fuel costs in the next 10 years.  If anything, we need to be looking at our rail transit systems to see where it needs improvement.  We also need to look at being more locally sustainable.]

  2. Mike says:

    I agree with Brent. I work in Illinois and live in Oakland, so go against the flow of traffic, and my commute is simple–35 minutes on a good day. Build the big bridge–because it really is truck traffic that slows so much down. Make it free, too–tolling is pointless. If Missouri were honest, it would place the income tax paid by Illinois residents into a trust fund to pay for the bridge. Illinoisians pay 6% state income tax to Missouri on Missouri-generated income, and another 1% to St Louis City, but these people will never put their kids in Missouri schools, their parents in Missouri medicaid beds, and themselves into Missouri prisons (well, most of them). Missouri is the only state that borders Illinois that does not have a reciprocal tax agreement–thus, Missouri gets lots of tax income from Illinois folks (assume 6% of an average 30K salary for 70,000 commuters=126 million a year?). That is the real reason that Illinois is opposed to tolls–that Missouri taxes its residents but provides few services in return. Illinois residents have a 3% state income tax, by the way, which also helps push people out of Missouri and into Illinois. And Illinois does not tax all pension income. No wonder there are so many houses going up on the Illinois side.

    The money, in other words, is already flowing into Missouri coffers, and Illinois wants to make sure that its citizens don’t get taxed again. Setting up a trust fund for the bridge out of these tax revenues is the best solution–you’d have the billion pretty fast, I think.

  3. maurice says:

    There was a recent posting on Steve Shapior’s site, 15thwardstl, with regards to economic development and luring large retailers to the inner city, versus a place like Brentwood Commons. He did an excellent 5 mile income/disposable income graphic (and maybe our Host Steve mentioned it as well – I just don’t remember). Anyways, there is a valid point that retailers look at the economics within a given range…usually 5 miles from their project. Brentwood Commons isn’t successful because of the money surrounding it, because surprisingly, South City actually has more income per household, but more so because of it’s central location.

    The City proper lacks this ‘central location’. You see, if you draw a 5 mile circle around the Arch….you unfortunatly pull in East St. Louis and Granite City and other parts east. No offense to those struggling areas, but the reality is they are struggling and they are pulling down the City when the decision makers look at this 5-mile circle. West of the Mississippi we are fine except for some areas north of the city, but the east part of that circle, the Ill. side, hurts.

    We need to have suburban sprawl on the east if we are to help the City grow. And yes, this will include a bridge for ease of commute. The trucks are not going away. Higher fuel costs means they will get more efficent, but don’t look for a return to the rails.

  4. john says:

    Why stop with just a bridge? Road planners in StL have convinced me that all are problems can be solved if we just trust them and their grand plans. Before we know it, every space will be a parking lot, bridge or highway and NO TRAFFIC JAMS! Trouble is who would want to live in such a place.

    Our central corridor, the spine of StL, is about to be severed and and the highway expanded. The quiet enjoyment of our property and our green space is under attack and yet our leaders cannot offer a competing vision. Who do they represent? (Amusing: the security word is “sustainable”… good choice Steve! I get a good laugh from your list of words.)

  5. “now estimated to cost between $999 million and $1.76 billion.”

    Good lord!! Couldn’t we just use that money to pay for relocating however many families to the same side of the river as their job? Figure $200,000 a house, that’s roughly 5,000-8,000 families, who then wouldn’t need to cross the river twice every day. A mere dent in the traffic, perhaps, but a big one!

  6. Hans Gerwitz says:

    Good lord!! Couldn’t we just use that money to pay for relocating however many families to the same side of the river as their job?
    Brilliant! That made my day.

    Maybe we could even sustain this move with a gas tax that funds public education in the form of a web tool for browsing home listings that also estimates your commute time, risk of flood, distance to cultural centers, electricity reliability, etc.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yeah, that made my day too!  That is like saying, lets give every poor person a new Toyota Prius hybrid every five years rather than fund mass transit.  Silly huh?  Two economists with the St. Louis Federal Reserve made such a statement in 2004 — read it here.  CMT has a number of good responses to the Federal Reserve report here.]

  7. Steve,

    Greenbelts or sprawl reducing land use laws are not “public choice!” We are big fans of “public choice” in St. Louis! Telling people where they cannot live is simply not American. Steve you need to get with the program!

  8. Hans Gerwitz says:

    I just read an essay in Common Fields about the construction of sewers in St. Louis during the 19th century. Fascinating insight into the city’s culture lies in that story, which is a tale of forward-thinking plans stymied by political cronyism and a public unwillingness to share the cost of infrastructure.

  9. Tyson says:

    Your suggestions for people who live in IL and don’t like the traffic on I-64 aren’t very practical. Why shouldn’t Illinoisans have the same options with respect to housing and transportation that Missourians do? It’s not as easy as just “moving closer”, there isn’t always a community in your price range close to your job. And Metrolink? Please. Perhaps an option if you work in DT, Barnes, or Clayton (and within a few blocks of the stops there) – but say you work somewhere else, work more than a few blocks from the stops, have to travel to multiple sites throughout the day or lug equipment for your job…not very helpful. As far as the freight issue, advocating a return to the rails doesn’t get us very far either. An earlier poster had it right – if/when oil gets too expensive it will most likely be dealt with through more efficient/alternative fuel vehicles.
    The most practical solution therefore is a new bridge. I’m not big on new highway projects, but support them if they encourage growth within the 270/255 ring, which is the center of our region. A new bridge encourages growth within the eastern half of this ring as opposed to the new I-64 project which subsidizes a new round of sprawl outside the western edge of the ring. If our region had it’s proirities straight, we (MO) would be funding our part of the bridge, not the new 64/40.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — My response on moving closer is no different than when the Page Ave Extension was being dabated a number of years ago — I was against that bridge and it had nothing to do with people living in Illinois.  What is not “practical” is the idea of our population spread out over such a huge landscape in now 16 county region.  

    If every current driver in the country drove a Prius Hybrid we’d still be putting too much pollutents into the atmosphere.  Alternative fuel vehicles all rely in processes which consume considerable energy themselves.  Many of the alternates use farm land that we will need for food prodution as our population goes from 200 million to 300 million.  

    As I have stated before, I have no problem with more lanes over the river — I just want them to be connected to the city’s grid in Missouri and the nearest city in Illinois.  This will make it easier to get across the river — just not for those going from O’Fallon IL to O’Fallon MO.] 

  10. Tyson says:

    ^ Ok, if you want people to live closer to where they work (an honorable goal) you can’t get there by simply opposing the transportation links between affordable communities and job centers. Just as important is getting local governments to provide appropriate housing for the people who are going to live/work in that community.

    Regarding your stance on alternative fuels, you’re very idealistic. That’s great, idealism can go a long way toward informing realistic goals, but regions like St. Louis simply have too much infrastructure invested in private automobiles to consider returning to rail-based freight transport on a large scale. Focusing on re-centering our region on the 270/255 ring (which the bridge would help do) provides is the most realistically attainable way to address both our need for growth and energy conservation.

    If it’s important to you to have the bridge connect to the street grid (slowing traffic) then we must also look at a way to provide quality affordable housing and a good school system to professionals who will need to live close to the bridge (i.e. in ESTL) in order to reach their jobs in DT or wherever. Focusing only on the design issue of connecting the bridge to the street grid without addressing the larger context won’t do anything except frustrate people who live farther out and are trying to use it.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Idealistic?  The idealists are the ones that foolishly think we can simply keep on driving cars forever with gasoline simply being replaced by some magical alternative.  Somehow life will go on as normal. As far as the transit of goods, this is not about being idealist either — fuel prices will make long distance truck transportation obsolete.  The US will be forced to return to rail transit out of necessity, not some idealist choice.  

    It is also very idealistic of you to think that any recentering of the urban core will be contained within 270/255.  I still believe we’ll see sprawl outside these areas with the bridge serving as an enabler to justify living further and further from the core.  St. Louis County is losing population and is expect to continue doing so after the bridge is built.  

    Yes, schools are important as are other quality of life issues.  An entire myriad of issues must be resolved in the core on both sides of the river.  These are not all design related, many are social & political as well — topics I have addressed in other threads and will continue to do so.]   

  11. Jim says:

    Oh boy, a new bridge that can just be ignored and ignored until it collapses, just like the one in Minneapolis did…people need to fix the bridges that we already have before building a new one!


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