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$1 Billion Mississippi River Bridge – The Numbers Just Don’t Add Up

Tuesday evening last week engineers revealed a new proposal for the Mississippi River Bridge. As expected, it is less costly and far less intrusive into the city compared to the old bridge. At first glance it looks fine. But when you dig below the surface the new design falls short of acceptable in an urban environment. Dig some more and the conclusion we need the bridge is questionable at best.

If you haven’t seen the previous design take a look at a prior post. Before I get into the question of having the bridge at all, let’s look at the revised design.


Again, the new design is far better than the catastrophic design previously proposed. Keep in mind the original concept many years ago was to make a highway loop around the West edge of downtown and connect with I-64/Hwy 40 just to the West of Union Station. Later this was scaled back as the 22nd Street Parkway but lofts and restaurants in the path of the parkway and lack of funds have killed the concept. But the engineers for the new bridge had continued to act as though the parkway was going to happen. In prior bridge concepts they had a massive hole and roadway stretching across the North edge of downtown that would dump cars onto Washington Avenue. Lack of money, not a richness of good sense, prompted the engineers to reconsider the Missouri interchange for the bridge.

Now, instead of dumping cars onto Washington Avenue they are being dumped onto Cass Avenue. The shortened on/off ramps are still being called “parkway” by the engineers simply because of all the open grass land around the them. Open grass land that comes from razing buildings and erasing the street grid. Long high-speed on/off ramps in an area where buildings and streets used to exist but now has some green grass is not a parkway, it is a mistake.

With nearly every downtown building being renovated as lofts and renewed interest in Old North St. Louis through their new in-fill houses we have a very unique opportunity to mend the city. Between downtown and Old North much has been lost and changed. But the street grid is mostly intact as are many of the buildings that make up a starting point for filling in the gaps between these two points. If done successfully someone could enjoy a nice walk from downtown to Crown Candy Kitchen. Filling in these blocks with new loft-like buildings, rowhouses and other building types we could create an even stronger residential base to support the growing number of downtown businesses. Strengthening our neighborhoods and seamlessly connecting them together should be a high priority for revitalizing the city. The new bridge design will make such connections visually challenging and literally difficult by foot, bicycle and even by car if you don’t know which streets are closed.

The revised design calls for the ramps to dump onto Cass Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets. Engineers have four lanes of traffic exiting the bridge at Cass. Two lanes turn left and two right. The assumption is many of the drivers that turn left will make an immediate right to take 10th Street into the central business district (CBD). 10th Street is currently a one-way street heading south, serving as a speedy exit from the current I-70. During the morning rush the street is crowded with folks just passing through. After 9am the street is desolate unless we have some sort of sporting event going on. The street is not there to serve the residents and to build upon but simply a pass through. Ninth Street is the opposite. No, it is not a lively street 24/7 but simply a Northbound version of 10th, a pass through on the way to somewhere else.

… Continue Reading


Upsetting the Bike Community By Speaking Up About Sprawl Makers

Last night I resigned my position on the board of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. At issue was THF Realty, the builder of sprawling big box projects such as Maplewood Commons on Hanley.

Why would a developer be an issue to a bike group?

Simple, someone over at THF Realty likes bicycling so they give money each year to various local groups, including the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. Because of this I’m supposed to show good judgement by not speaking out against them.

In a recent interview for Point to Point Cycling News I was asked the following question:

Resolve this conundrum: THF Realty is responsible for some of the most anti-pedestrian developments in St. Louis and elsewhere. Yet, they are also the biggest financial supporter, by far, of cycling events and teams in the area. Is this just a big PR stunt. Should cyclists be a bit more critical of this support?

Here was my response:

Thank you for asking this question. I’d love to see the entire cycling community refuse money from THF. THF is wreaking havoc on the planet and accepting their money is an endorsement of how they gained the money. While we are working to make the built environment more connected and friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists they are profiting while creating anti-bike and anti-pedestrian sprawl.

For the full interview click here (PDF, see page 18).

THF Realty’s chairman is Stan Kroenke, #164 of the Forbes list of 400 Richest Americans with a net worth of $1.8 Billion. Kroenke’s wife is an heir to the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame.

A few thousand dollars is sofa change to them yet it manages to keep otherwise vocal transportation advocates silent. This is hush money in my book. It seems to be effective. You get a group used to some money and pretty soon they come to expect it. Once they expect it they become dependent on it and fear the loss of the money. Wait, we’ve heard this before haven’t we? From the Post-Dispatch:

If Belleville turned down the tax incentives, would Wal-Mart look for a site elsewhere? “Oh yes, I’m sure we would,” Bornstein [of THF Realty] said.

And that lies at the center of the debate over TIFs. Cities feel as though they must give them. The existing Wal-Mart, about a mile away, is the largest producer of sales tax revenue in Belleville. That store, by the way, was expanded in 1993 with another TIF.

If Belleville won’t play ball, THF could buy land a half-mile away in Shiloh. Belleville would be left with nothing.

So the local bike community is in the same boat as Belleville; dependent upon on money from the big box and afraid to do anything about it. It really is sad that an organization that purports to improve the region for bicyclists is afraid to speak out against a company that is arguably one of the worst offenders in the St. Louis region — topping even Desco. Any individual, group or municipality that is in such a position is compromised beyond the point of being impartial. They’ve been bought. Credibility goes in the trash once you’ve been bought. Just ask Metropolis. [Note: see the comment below on Metropolis & my reply; 11/9 @ 4:20pm]

I will continue to push for bike racks throughout the city and a downtown bike station, just not as a board member of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation.

– Steve

[UPDATE 11/9 @ 9:15am – I want to make it clear that I fully support the mission and work of the St. Louis Regional Bike Federation. I have been friends with a number of board members for years. For me personally I cannot sit quiet while the THF’s of the world run amuck. I will support programs of the Bike Fed (such as pushing for more bike parking), just not as a board member. I wish them all the best of luck. – SLP]


Meeting on Ill-Fated Mississippi Bridge Tuesday, November 8th

The next public meeting on the over-sized and over-priced Mississippi River Bridge will be held later today — Tuesday, November 8th. From a recent mailer:

“A new, more economical design concept for the New Mississippi River Bridge Project has been developed. The Missouri Department of Transportation invites you to learn more about the new concept and to comment.”

A recent Post-Dispatch story makes you wonder if the project will ever get off the ground:

“Missouri had always said, ‘Let Congress pay for it,'” Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn said Tuesday. “This is a project that had never been on our front burner.”

Rahn and his counterparts in Illinois are at odds over how to pay for the bistate link they say is needed to alleviate worsening rush-hour and truck traffic between St. Louis and the Metro East area. While Illinois has devoted several million dollars to design and other work in recent years, the bridge does not exist in Missouri’s five-year plan.

Once estimated to cost $1.6 billion, the bridge project could cost $910 million if a scaled-back version gets federal approval.

Missouri and Illinois congressional delegations secured $239 million in federal money for the project. Illinois Transportation Secretary Tim Martin has said his state can afford its share of the remainder. That leaves Missouri with about a $350 million bill, Rahn said.

“We have no dollars to commit to this project right now,” Rahn said.

Missouri is pushing for tolls to pay their share but Illinois says no. Maybe we’ll be lucky and this massive bridge to more sprawl project will finally be abandoned. But the mayor’s website says, “The new bridge will be built.”

The mayor’s site also says, “The new bridge would be good for Downtown and for the City of St. Louis.” Really? How exactly? Oh yes, the theory is some of the development happening in Western St. Louis County and St. Charles County will happen in the metro East instead. How is that good for downtown and the city?

Previously the mayor had indicated the new bridge would make it easier for people to get to us. Right. Easier to get downtown. Or perhaps easier to leave downtown? Yeah, that is it. I certainly don’t see a new bridge, costing nearly a billion dollars, helping improve our neighborhoods.

So what about the Page Avenue Extension from St. Louis County into St. Charles County. Does anyone actually think the bridge helps St. Louis County by making it easier to get there from St. Charles County? Doubtful. Our Metropolitan Planning Agency, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, expects sprawling St. Charles County to add 93,600 residents in the next 25 years while St. Louis County will lose 13,900 residents in the same period. The patterns are clear – the Page Avenue bridge is used to get people from St. Charles County into St. Louis County. St. Louis County must do all they can not to lose workplaces and retail outlets to St. Charles County.

Another bridge from Illinois to Missouri can have the same results. I’ve seen nothing to prove St. Louis City would benefit from this new bridge. One might argue we’ll gain some money simply from the construction process but if we need to create massive building projects to create jobs lets do it in the form of new housing. Congestion is a claim for the new bridge but even that comes into question. The same report from East-West Gateway, named Legacy 2030: The Transportation Plan for the Gateway Region, indicates St. Louis ranks below average in congestion. Their congestion maps show severe morning congestion on the Poplar Street Bridge (PSB) into Missouri and then on I-64/Hwy 40 Eastbound into Illinois in the afternoon. It also shows severe congestion in relatively new interchanges such as I-64 & I-270.

From the propaganda site promoting the new bridge:

The economic future of the urban core on both sides of the river depends on the efficient movement of goods and services, and the ability of people to simply get to work. Transportation paralysis will force businesses, jobs and new growth out of the urban core. An improved highway system at the heart of the Bi-state will help to revitalize downtown St. Louis, the north riverfront and the Metro East area, notably East St. Louis and the National Stockyards redevelopment area. By the year 2020, the 90-minute period of rush-hour congestion will double to three hours. Average delays will increase from 10 to 55 minutes.

East-West Gateway says Madison & St. Clair Counties in Illinois will add 35,200 residents between now and 2020. This is an increase of just under 7%. And from what I can tell these estimates are based on the new bridge being built. As a whole our region is expected to increase in population about 6.4% between now and 2020. So how is it our 90 minute rush hour becomes three hours? Or delays go from 10 minutes to 55 minutes? Part of the answer is the estimate is that more younger people will be driving but we’ll also have an older population that most likely won’t be driving. The answer is that our urban policies will continue to encourage people to drive single occupancy vehicles and live further and further from the center of the region.

Illinois is the one paying for the bridge website and likely more than half the other expenses. Why? They have the most to gain. The idea this bridge will help renovate downtown St. Louis and East St. Louis is false. In Illinois this will help those in sprawling subdivisions continue driving long distances to work in their SUVs but now with the added benefit of not having to actually drive through East St. Louis on the highway. I can see this new bridge being used by people in suburban Illinois to drive to St. Charles County — bypassing the areas that are supposed to benefit from this bridge.

If Illinois officials and St. Louis officials were genuinely concerned about the core of the region being competitive they’d be fighting sprawl throughout the region. They can start with THF Realty’s proposed development on a large tract of land in Belleville Illinois for a Wal-Mart anchored strip center. From a recent Post-Dispatch story:

The 140-acre site is at Green Mount Road and Carlyle Avenue. Green Mount is one of the hottest growth corridors in the Metro East. Carlyle is a main thoroughfare to Scott Air Force Base.

The site that THF Realty wants to develop is bounded by MetroLink tracks and is across the street from the Southwestern Illinois College campus; a new YMCA is next door.

It seems to be prime development property. And THF is getting the land at a bargain-basement $50,000 an acre. Developers just to the north have paid more than three times that to build large stores.

Yet, without $19.8 million in tax breaks, of which about $11.3 million will be the equivalent of TIF financing, the developer argues that it would not make financial sense to do the project, which also includes 357 houses.

Imagine the possibilities of a 140 acre site next to MetroLink. This is an excellent opportunity for a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that would allow residents to take MetroLink to work in St. Louis or after next year, Clayton. But, THF will squander the proximity — just like they did on Hanley Road in Maplewood.

Increased transit ridership comes only when it is more convenient than using a car. This bridge will discourage use of our existing mass transit as well as reducing calls for expansion of the system. The transportation project that will have the single greatest positive impact on the City of St. Louis would be the Northside & Southside MetroLink lines. Period.

Mayor Slay — if you want to get something built forget about the riverfront and this bridge — go for more MetroLink. By 2030 you’ll be seen as a hero rather than the guy that frittered away millions on floating islands in the Mississippi River.

For my prior post on the new Mississippi Bridge, click here. Today’s preview of the latest bridge design will be held at Webster Middle School, 2127 N. 11th, St. Louis MO 63106.

– Steve


Reversing Trends Since WWII

November 4, 2005 Downtown, Local Business, St. Louis County, Suburban Sprawl Comments Off on Reversing Trends Since WWII

I’m heading downtown in a few minutes for the First Friday Gallery & Design Walk. One stop will be modern furniture store, The Ambiente Collection, located at 10th and Locust.

I happened to be in the hell known as Manchester Road at 141 in far St. Louis County earlier today and drove past Ambiente’s former location in a reasonably new strip center. The tenant in their old space is Dirt Cheap — the beer & cigarette’s place. I love it, we get designer furniture and they get cheap smokes!

Maybe on my next visit way out there I’ll see some pawn shops or check cashing places?

– Steve


Winghaven Grocer to Reopen!

A week ago I reported that Dave’s, a small grocer located in the suburban area known as Winghaven, had closed. Here is a portion of Dave’s letter to the community he served:

After many weeks of indecision it is with a great deal of regret that Kathy and I have to share with you that we will be closing our store for the last time Sunday, October 16, 2005.

The two and one half years we have been open have made us a success in everything we tried to do with the exception of one, and that is the financial portion of the business.

Today I learned the community has rallied to save Dave’s. Now the website read’s differently:

Thanks to this AWESOME community,

Dave will be back!

Apparently part of the problem had to do with debt associated with startup costs. I’m told about 500 people rallied to help Dave and raised an undisclosed sum of money to offset debts. Day to day operations are profitable.

Couple of things to consider….

Sometimes it takes incubating new retail in places where you are trying to change shopping patterns from auto-oriented to the corner store. This is where I think New Town at St. Charles is doing a good job getting businesses located in their central core.

A large parcel across the street from Winghaven’s Boardwalk is a large parcel of land that Pyramid has proposed new condos. Locals are hoping the City of O’Fallon approves the project quickly so new residents will be nearby to support Dave’s and other retailers.

– Steve