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MoDOT Needs To Put The 22nd Street Interchange On Any Wish List For Funding

December 18, 2008 Downtown 17 Comments

Since at least the 1930s the planners and traffic engineers that successfully destroyed much of St Louis in the name of progress have envisioned yet another highway in downtown St Louis.  It was known as the 22nd Street Parkway and it was to connect hwy 40 on the South and I-70 on the North.  The only part that got built was the connection to I-64/Hwy 40.

Thankfully none of the rest got built and the plans to build it have been scrapped.

For a while now MoDOT has been looking at simplifying the interchange to reduce the amount of land consumed — freeing up land to be redeveloped (see MoDOT’s page the interchange).  The problem has been a lack of priority in funding the project of reclaiming this wasteland.

The interchange and much around it are the driver’s paradise and the pedestrian’s hell:

2006 Aerial showing Union Station in the lower right corner and the wasted space of the 22nd Street Interchange to the left of Union Station.
2006 Aerial showing Union Station in the lower right corner and the wasted space of the 22nd Street Interchange to the left of Union Station.

A half century ago the area looked and functioned quite differently:

1958 aerial image of exact same area as shown above.

Both images were purchased from Historic Aerials.  To see larger images click either one to view them in Flikr where you can select a larger size.

We need to use this as a model for the future — not to replicate the buildings, but the finely woven street grid.

I wrote the following in a post from June 2007:

The 22nd Street Interchange, part of an abandoned highway concept from a few decades ago, needs to be ripped out with the land returned to active tax-paying use. The Missouri Dept of Transportation (MoDOT) should rework the interchange at Jefferson Ave to allow for on/off ramps in both directions and therefore eliminating the need for the current ramps at 22nd. MoDot could sell the land to fund the revisions to the highway ramps.

I picture a new bridge at I-64/40 and Jefferson Ave — one with a single point urban interchange (SPUI) and both East & West on/off ramps.  Build that and then remove the 22nd interchange completely.  Bring in form-based zoning codes to require a denser urban environment.  Make a strong connection through the back of Union Station (between the shed & highway) so that pedestrians from this newly developable land have the opportunity to walk to Metrolink and the 14th street transit station beyond that. The fact that much of this area is already excavated and free of utility lines would simplify the construction of underground parking in new buildings.

If Missouri is asking the new Obama administration to help fund infrastructure this should be near the top of the list.  I’m going to suggest that Ald Kacie Triplett (D-6th Ward) put this on the front burner as a way to kickstart the redevelopment of this area.

Such a project could be a huge boon for the city.  The impact would certainly be felt beyond the immediate area.  For example, Chestnut & Pine could both be returned to two-way traffic.  Union Station could once again have an adjacent neighborhood.

A downtown streetcar circulator loop could connect this new neighborhood to the other parts of downtown.  With such a large open area it would be the perfect spot for an urban Target store — picture the Hampton & Chippewa store (underground parking) except without the surface parking out front.  Retailers that would prefer new construction over squeezing in a historic building would love the location.  Building heights of 3-5 floors would give a nice scale although I would not propose any maximum.

St Louis has much rebuilding to do.  We’ve got to roll up our collective sleeves and get busy.  The current economic situation will improve in a few years and when it does we need to have the new streets in the works and the zoning in place.


Currently there are "17 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    One, I like the idea of a full SPUI at Jefferson. Two, I’d vote to complete the original project (taking it north to I-70 and the new bridge) IF, IF, IF that would let us totally remove the depressed section by the Arch. And three, be careful what you ask for – recapturing a large tract of developable land next to the freeway is more likely to result in a single big use, not a return to a fine-gained past. Best case could be an IKEA (or Wal·Mart Supercenter) – hey, it’d mean more sales taxes! Worst case would be more surface parking for SLU, Harris-Stowe and/or Scottrade. And for really pie-in-the-sky, it’d be a good place to build a new stadium for the Rams . . .

    [slp— Finishing the highway would mean taking out newly renovated lofts and places like the Tap Room. It is dead! The depressed section of I-70 can be dealt with without more destruction 20+ blocks to the West. As much as I don’t want big box in the area it would be more productive than what exists now.]

  2. L Frank Baum says:

    Since it is already excavated below the surrounding land, I’d dam it, build a small lake, and then build a few condos around the edges.

    [slp — interesting idea.]

  3. Matt H says:

    I have always thought that since it is already “depressed” from the surrounding land, build an ampitheater here with stunning city views and mixed use buildings around it, putting it within the city grid as much as possible. I absolutey hate Riverport/UMB/whatever it is called now for its location as much as for the fact that when a show is over, you can’t walk anywhere to hang out afterwards. An ampitheater here with the views and the adjacent amenities could be interesting.

  4. Matt H says:

    ^^^ My first preference would be the full city grid replaced and develop all land available, as an ampitheater the size of Riverport could create another dead zone downtown if done wrong. But I have always thought it would be an interesting use for the land.

    [slp — I could see an amphitheater in line with the Gateway Mall — creating a terminus. Picture the outdoor venue in Millennium Park at that point surrounded by new urban structures.]

  5. Tim E says:

    I really think the issue is NOT MoDOT putting this on the list but some direction coming from the Mayor’s office. I believe the mayor’s office has put down $900 million for north/southside light rail line as a “ready to go project” in the Mayors council list. That is ridiculus request that will only get the city zilch nor solve any pressing infrastructure issues (think a crumbling North Tucker to begin with). MoDOT has actually restrained themselve from putting down ever wishfull project they could think of.

    You could put the 22nd street project with a couple of other ideas that have right of way in place with limited number of and agreeable parties (yes, MoDOT would like to see the 22nd parkway idea also go away). More important in terms of any political stimulus package negotiation, projects that can be done within a reasonable budget and time through design build contracts. Why not drop the light rail line and formulate a street grid rebuild program that incorporates projects like the 22nd street interchange. The next on my list – replace I-70 trench with blvd rebuild for the sake of the riverfront and downtown. In the meantime, none of these ideas go forward until the city puts forth a city transportation improvement plan (not a maintenance or replacement plan).

  6. Tim E says:

    Jim, I have already written in the propery north of the Edwards Dome as the new open stadium for the Rams. Property for which now is partly owned by Clayco (builders of Busch Stadium and connected), slowly being cleared, and intact as one group of owners instead of multiple parties. In the meantime, it continues to be passed as the Bottle Works until the new Mississippi River Bridge is built and Clayco gets the next favorable political wind for stadium building. The icing on the cake, Convention people get to build a parking structure where the Dome is.

    I do like the idea of promoting the property on the east side of a new 22nd street interchange and south of Market Street to Ikea as a tie in with Union Station. They would get great freeway access and central location to the region. The city would get a sales tax revenue generator that would attract people from each side of the river. The city can put in request for design/engineering as well as demolition funding under a stimulus request (add a off ramp to Jefferson Ave from I-64 East in the interm). The street and interchanges can be built using a TDD or TIF. Heck, move the Union Station metrolink stop to the other side of Union Station and Ikea can claim that they are a green store!!

  7. GMichaud says:

    It is quite amazing the wastelands this interchange creates. They are literally parks for cars. Now if they would only build car picnic benches and make a few spots were an auto can lay back and stare at the sky.
    It is hard to believe the is the best we can do with design. But I forgot, it is the anarchy of capitalism, so anything goes. The welfare of the country is only a concern after profits are assured.

    It would be interesting to compare the amount of park land for people to the amount of green space created by interchanges for the automobile.

  8. James R. says:

    With the kids’ daycare moving into the Motor Loft building on Washington at almost Jefferson, I look around at that area, including the interchange, as the perfect opportunity in St. Louis for something simlar to Portland’s Pearl District, where renovated lofts give way to new construction. I’m intrigued by the idea of a pond/lake.
    It’d be a shame to see City Seeds Farm go, though. That is a hidden gem in our fair city.
    The other shame is seeing all those lovely rail lines in and out and beside Union Station in the 1958 photo. That’s where the Multi-Modal Transportation Station should have gone.

  9. john says:

    An ideal place for a multi-modal trsportation system (hotel included!) was lost in allowing the beautiful Union Station (with the gorgeous statues/fountains/park out front)to become a strip mall in the city. But the greatest opportunity for an efficient transportation system for the region was lost (for decades?) when MoDOT began work on the New 64 (Main Street of the region) without integrating alternatives modes of travel. Metro, CMT and Dooley-Blunt supported the plans without a wisper of dissent and in fact supported these inferior plans. Any realistic plans for change were lost when Metro absolutely destroyed its reputation with the dismal Extension.
    – –
    All of us have Christmas wishes. The preferred gift requested by MoDOT to Santa Obama is the 141 extension. (http://www.modot.org/newsandinfo/District0News.shtml?action=displaySSI&newsId=24135)
    – –
    One interchange will not change Lou’s major MO, “cars-R-us”. Case closed.

  10. Jim Zavist says:

    Tim, I know this is heretical, but I’ve always thought that the best place for a new open stadium for the Rams would be in East St. Louis, just across the river, between the Eads & MLK bridges. Yes, it’s in a floodplain, but a stadium could be designed to flood and could easily be surrounded by a sea of parking for those 10 or 12 days a year it would get used, plus there’s a Metrolink station already there and the there’s a great view of downtown and the the arch. Let the folks in Illinois pay for it – the argument that we need a stadium to generate sales taxes simply isn’t supported or offset by the amount of taxes that will need to be spent to build one! It’s simply an ego statement for the politicians and the local sports fans.
    Getting back to 20th Street, more than likely this falls into the realm of if it ain’t broke, why fix it? The state has no funds for maintenance, much less any new construction, so the only way it’s going to go away in the next 20 or 30 years is if the city finds a use/user for the property and pays for most of the cost of building a new SPUI at Jefferson (in return for getting the land). And, unfortunately, vacant land ain’t something we’re lacking in this area . . .

    [slp — oh but the area is broken. I went to Jefferson South of Market in my wheelchair this summer — -not pleasant at all. I ended up having to ride on Market for a bit to cross over this interchange. I’m thinking stimulus money from the feds — this would be a good use.]

  11. Matt H says:

    I have to agree with Steve here…it is definitely “broke” and needs fixing. I catch a bus daily on Market just west of this interchange and considering what lies East of this area (stunning CBD views, Union Station, etc.) this area is a wasteland. What is funny is that there is actually a decent amount of foot traffic at both rush hours with workers from AG Edwards/Wachovia/Wells Fargo walking to/from where they park or out of town workers staying at the hotel there. A lively mixed use neighborhood with street level retail/amenities would keep these people downtown longer into the night as well as give them more opportunities to live close to where they work.

  12. Jim Zavist says:

    I don’t disagree that the interchange has f*~#ed up the neighborhood – my point was that, as a highway element, it’s not particularly dangerous, nor is it overcrowded or falling down. There are plenty of other places in the city, region and state that ARE, and logically, they should be a bigger priority for spending highway money on to “fix”. I also don’t have a problem with the city coming up with a different, viable idea/use for the land and figuring out how to fund it in conjunction with the new user; I just wouldn’t count on MoDOT and/or the feds throwing a lot of money at the current “problem” – it’s primarily a local urban design issue, not a highway issue that impacts the larger state. In other words, MoDOT can probably be convinced to surrender the land IF it won’t impact the operation of their highway, but they will likely expect anyone with “better” ideas to find the money to implement them . . .

  13. Tim E says:

    Agrees with Jim’s point on why the 22nd street interchange is very far from MoDOT’s concern. It is still trying to figure how to rebuild 800 bridges across the state. Which goes back to the city has to take the lead. In this regard, to start over you need to take out what is already there. A simple and relative simple stimulus request. You can even avoid the immediate fill in and think about a lake for a while. However, I very much favor the reintroduction of the street grid as the best way to redevelop an urban area. Unfortunately, it might take a while for infill to occur as Jim correctly noted. Plenty of space to go around.

    Jim, as far as the football stadium. Open air is my only desire. St. Lou made the mistake of building a dome. Now for location, I always thought things will never be right with the Jets & Giants until they quit playing in Jersey at the meadowlands.

  14. Ron F says:

    Great ideas for reuse of this area, building density and mixed uses with small blocks. If you want to learn more about what this area used to be like, see my book Mill Creek Valley A Soul of Saint Louis, available at the library, Left Bank Books or the History Museum.
    Ron F

  15. GMichaud says:

    The Mill Creek Valley book is very good, I recommend it. It has a good description of the community that existed before demolition and what is also an interesting description of how the press, city officials and other leaders ganged up together to degrade the neighborhood in public. Similar to the collusion of today on so many issues.
    There is also a good selection of photos for illustration purposes.

  16. Justin B says:

    I personally like the idea of maintaining the original plan for the 22nd Street Interchange, but I'd rather see it turned into the I-70 connector to the New Mississippi River Bridge and take out the depression, perhaps putting in a boulevard in it's place. But something that could get the backing of those wanting a sort of business district in the wasteland that is the current interchange, I think the entire connecting portion, from U.S. 40/I-64 to I-70 could be built entirely underground, somewhat like what Boston did in it's downtown area. That way, a park or buildings could be built over the highway and no one could tell.

    About the amphitheater idea though… Any amphitheater built in the depressed area of the current interchange would have to seriously worry about noise pollution from I-40, even at night. I think the noise pollution would prevent the amphitheater from becoming anything of a profite/tax-maker. But a business district, somewhat like Kansas City's Plaza or Wesport or our own Loop or CWE, doesn't need to be “noise-free” and being so close off a major highway would almost guarantee its success.

    That's just what I think.


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