Thursday, February 26, 2009

Destructive Stimulus

MODoT just doesn't get it. It's proposing to toss a paltry sum at the city of St. Louis to repave Memorial Drive, and spend a massive amount of money extending highway 141 in northwest St. Louis County. The bulk of the funds would go into rural highway projects. In other words, stimulus funds intended to boost the economy are going to be thrown away on the wasteful practices that got us into this mess in the first place.

Repaving Memorial Drive will do nothing to boost the economy. It is a place devoid of anything but motorists moving between freeways and that offers no opportunity for other development. Extending 141 will certainly lead to development, but it will be the same old story of new strip malls and big-box retail that will suck the life out of strip malls and big-box retail in other parts of the county. Suburban sprawl can only sustain itself on the constant duplication of existing infrastructure; there's just not enough population to support the rapidly expanding amount of commercial space that is cluttering the suburban fringe. MODoT's plan plays right into this wasteful cycle by opening new tracts of north county to developers who will build the boxes, take the profits, and disappear with the asphalt compactors.

The stimulus funds offer an opportunity to build the 14th Street Metrolink line, which will draw vital investment into North St. Louis and promote the development of sustainable commercial space that will actually feed neighborhoods instead of bleed them dry. Improvements to rail service between the state's major cities could relieve pressure on the interstates. A high-speed train between St. Louis and Kansas City would go a long way to creating sustainable freight and passenger transportation in Missouri, and bolster smaller cities along the way, such as Fulton, Columbia, and Sedalia. Instead of drawing traffic out of the small towns of Missouri, as the interstates do [just look at the tawdry development at every exit ramp], a rail line would spawn freight transfer depots in the decaying industrial districts of town all along the line, and bring visitors into the depots of downtowns that desperately need investment.

Last time I was in northwest St. Louis County [and I avoid it], it didn't strike me as a place that needs stimulus. Last time I walked Memorial Drive [which everybody avoids], it struck me as a place that needs massive redevelopment to turn back over to the pedestrians who sustain urban cores, not a place that needed to accomodate more cars.

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