St. Louis, 2008: Another “Carmageddon” That Wasn’t

The highway closure heralded as doomsday ends up as an anti-climactic dud… where have we seen this one before?

Dire warnings preceded the closure of I-64 in St. Louis in 2008. But the actual outcome was thoroughly underwhelming. Photo: MoDOT

Oh, right — St. Louis circa 2008. Just three years ago in this Midwestern metropolis, officials warned that the construction-related closure of I-64 would sentence the community to interminable gridlock and economic implosion.

Except, not unlike Carmageddon 2011, the hyperbolic prognostications never came to pass. St. Louis blog Gateway Streets says when it came to this year’s hype in Los Angeles, “St. Louisans knew all along”:

Anybody from St. Louis could have told LA that Carmaggedon would amount to almost nothing. St. Louis spent 2 years without 5-mile portions of I-64. Prior to the highway’s closure in 2008, many people pleaded to the city, county, state, and anybody who would listen to stop the imminent project, prophesying 3-hour commutes and economic ruin for the St. Louis region. Unexpectedly for many, traffic disappeared in most places for the first few days; the full impact of the highway closure, from a congestion standpoint, took months to develop. Also, a survey released near the project’s conclusion did not find any discernible economic impact on businesses near the highway as compared to businesses elsewhere in the St. Louis region.

What does it all mean? Only that contrary to “common sense,” the economic well being of cities across the country is not tied to the highways that cut through them. That, and air travel takes a minimum of 3 hours door to door regardless of how short the flight is.

All of this just goes to show, once again, that more car capacity is not the solution to congestion. Transit service, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and a well-connected street grid that offers people plenty of route options are what keep “Carmaggedon” at bay, not interstates.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland announces Tri-Met is expanding its “Bike and Ride” facilities for cycling transit users. Walkable DFW reviews Earl Smith’s new book about American highway culture, “Big Roads.” And This Big City carries a round-up of 25 great urbanism quotes.