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Friday, November 11, 2005

Bridge Spin

We attended Tuesday's meeting on that silly new Mississippi River bridge at Webster School. Claire can tell you all about her experience arguing with an obstinate engineer, and I'll let her write about it. To judge the spin on the new bridge, I quietly looked at drawings and maps and waited for an engineer to come talk to me. When an engineer engaged me in conversation, I was cool and let him talk me up; I wanted to know how they would sell their product to someone expressing almost no opinion.

Below is a paraphrased and exaggerated version of the exchange.

HIM: This bridge is still going to be the biggest bridge being built right now, he told me. Despite the scaled-back design and the elimination of the impressive single-span truss, it will still create some local records for truss width and height. It will be monumental.

ME: Oh, interesting. Very good.

HIM: Do you live in the neighborhood?

ME: Yes.

HIM: Well, we scaled back all of our plans for the interchange. The parkway is gone. All we are proposing is one interchange at Cass Avenue. This won't have such a big impact on the neighborhood. This won't be as disruptive.

ME: Good. That's what I came to see -- how it will impact the neighborhood. I haven't seen the maps yet, so let me look at them before asking any questions.

So, he first stressed how big and important the bridge will be under the new plans, then how it will be less harmful to Old North St. Louis. I see they have strong talking points that address the two types people most interested in the bridge: highway enthusiasts and near north side residents.

Too bad the plans don't match the spin on the second point. The bridge's off ramp will claim the historic Joseph Wangler boiler works and, despite its not being in the way of the new off ramp, the factory building and warehouse at 13th and Cass. Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh streets will be interrupted for the off ramp and will not connect to downtown. Several homes in Old North east of I-70 are still being torn down for a new interchange at St. Louis Avenue.

Not as disruptive as before, yes.

Still very damaging to the built environment on the near north side. My concerns are somewhat parochial and surround the connectivity of the heart of Old North St. Louis with downtown. The biggest impact of the bridge on the city cannot be mitigated without halting the project completely -- it will become a wall between the area of Laclede's Landing and the North Riverfront industrial corridor. This wall will eliminate views of the downtown skyline from numerous large warehouse buildings on the North Riverfront being considered for future loft apartment conversion. The bridge piers will cut too close to exciting projects planned for the old Southwestern Freight Depot and the St. Louis Stamping Company buildings.

For another opinion on the bridge, read Steve Patterson's recent post in Urban Review St. Louis.

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