Highway Expansion Promotes Sprawl

Article excerpt

In the past year, urban sprawl has been the subject of increasing public comment and analysis. More groups are forming to study its impact. Legislation was introduced in the Missouri General Assembly to deal with it. The East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, the Regional Commerce & Growth Association and the Peirce Report all have expressed concern about it.

Those who benefit from development try to downplay its negative aspects. Those hurt by it are organizing to demand action. As subregional players prepare to put on the boxing gloves, the maturity of the region will be tested.

Is there a need for a new evaluation of the region's growth pattern? Can interests that appear to be at odds come together? Let's start with some understanding of trends. Since 1970, the population of the region has not changed; it has shifted. There are 211,000 more people living in St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin County now and 225,000 less in the city of St. Louis. Reasons for the shift are varied: a desire for a new home, low tolerance for those of a different race or class, fear of neighborhood trends, hopes for better schools or less crime. Perhaps more than anything else, its a lack of policies promoting a "can do" attitude toward neighborhood preservation. These factors begin the cycle of population shift. Some policies, particularly transportation policy, then add fuel to the fire by supporting the cycle. A cursory review of highway decisions demonstrates the problem. Since 1978, the nine bridge lanes serving St. Charles County have increased to 20. The Page Avenue Bridge will bring the total to 30. Interstate 55 serving Jefferson County has been widened to 10 lanes. I-44 serving Franklin County has also been widened. The interstate interchanges with I-270 have been or are being rebuilt at huge expense. I-70 west of 270 has been widened into St. Charles. A new I-370 bridge and highway extend west to St. Peters. Developers are seeking Highway 40 modernization in St. Charles and Page Avenue extended to Lake St. Louis. The list of major expansion projects outside I-270 could go on and on. What about projects inside I-270? I-70 is falling apart. The section in Cool Valley is a death trap. The Highway 40 interchanges are still 1950 vintage. Access to downtown from the established Bellefontaine-Spanish Lake area is poor. No attempts have been made to build more acceptable, modest linkages between South County and Clayton. Few improvements have been made to state highways like Page, Olive, Lindbergh, Gravois, St. Charles Rock Road or Natural Bridge inside of I-270. Why has our state highway policy abandoned preservation and modernization in established areas? No recent governor has appointed a Missouri Highway commissioner from inside the I-270 beltway. …