The Danger of Letting Your State DOT Plan Your City

Image: NextSTL

Without a solid plan for the future from city officials, Alex Ihnen writes, the Missouri DOT has been given free rein to gouge highways through St. Louis. Image: NextSTL

If there’s one place that should have internalized the lesson that more highways harm cities, it’s St. Louis.

Despite having the second-most highway lane miles per person of any city in America, St. Louis has been declining for decades. Alex Ihnen at NextSTL points out that both population and driving are declining in the region. Metro St. Louisans are driving fewer miles today than they have since the mid-1990s.

But do you think the highway builders at the Missouri Department of Transportation are calling for a change of course? LOL! Ihnen writes that the state DOT only sees urban population loss, sprawl, and decline as added reasons to spend even more on highways:

It’s simply stunning to consider the ahistoric leaps in logic. Your city’s gaining population? Build more roads. People are driving more? Build more roads. Your city is losing population? Build more roads. And this in a city with 25 percent of its population without access to a car, and nearly 30 percent of its residents living in poverty (defined as annual income of less than $23,850 for a family of four). The average annual cost of owning a car? More than $7,000.

And yet we build. The $700M Stan Musial Bridge just opened to carry I-70 across the Mississippi River, meant to relieve traffic congestion on the Poplar Street Bridge, which continues to carry I-55 and I-64. MoDOT says that’s just a piece of the larger pie. About $27M is going into reversing ramps, putting a one-block lid over I-70 and removing downtown streets as part of the CityArchRiver project. Another $100M plus project will reconfigure I-55 and I-70 ramps to I-64 in downtown, add a traffic lane to eastbound I-64 and slide the Poplar Street Bridge over to a add a fifth eastbound lane across the river.

When a city defers its self-identity to highway building, you get highways. At some point, residents of the city must understand and speak to their own interests. This type of destructive and wasteful development isn’t any city’s fate, it’s a choice. And if a choice isn’t made, a vision not articulated and fought for? Well, the highway department gets to plan your city.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure marvels at a Seattle television news station’s epic Bike-to-Work Day blunder. Bike Portland says there’s a reason rents are high in central Portland — hardly any of the area is zoned to allow multi-family housing. And Walkable Dallas Fort Worth says Texas officials are still convinced building highways will lead to economic growth.