Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bridge to Nowhere?

I've been trying to keep up with the published reports about the urination contest being staged by political leaders from Missouri and Illinois over a new Mississippi River bridge. I don't claim to have all the facts. But, I don't quite understand why this has gotten to the point of exasperation. The basics seem to be pretty simple.

-Both states want a new bridge at St. Louis
-Both states want to use federal money to pay for most of the project.
-Both states understand that Illinois commuters will use the new bridge more than Missourians.
-Both states agree that Illinois should put more money into the project pot than Missouri.
-Both states originally were on board for a billion-dollar plus "super bridge" north of the MLK Bridge.

Then, when it was realized that neither state wanted to kick in the required bucks to build the super bridge, the "ca ca hit the oscillator". Now, leaders from both states still want to build some kind of bridge...but can't agree on a plan. Missouri wants a toll bridge. Illinois wants a companion bridge to the MLK that will cost about half of what the original bridge would have cost...but insists that it not be a toll bridge. Missouri leaders have now been linked to former Congressman Dick Gephardt, and his lobbying on behalf of the Goldman-Sachs investment firm which wants to be involved... if it's a toll bridge. Now Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has jumped into the squabble and said there will NEVER be a toll least not while he's governor. And, the federal bucks are going away at the end of this calendar year. So, somebody had better come up with a plan that Show-Me and Prairie-staters can agree on.

Well...let's step back and think for a second.

Currently, I-55, I-44, I-64, and I-70 traffic is all funneled across the Poplar Street Bridge. Add to that the daily commuters and every-day schmucks who have to do business on both sides of the river, and you've got much more traffic than the PSB was ever supposed to handle.

Why not institute a plan that diverts much of the interstate traffic away from the Poplar Street Bridge? Or would that make too much sense? And would it also deprive the local politcos of the opportunity to boast about the amount of fed dollars they brought home to the area for the new bridge? Oh...those federal bucks are allocated...we had better use them. Heaven forbid that we actually save the taxpayers some money by using the bucks in a more sensible, and less headline-grabbing, fashion.

I read a letter to the editor a while back from a guy who has a trucking company suggesting that I-55 traffic be diverted to the JB Bridge and I-70 traffic be directed to the Chain-of-Rocks Bridge. This idea makes overwhelming sense to me. I-255 and I-270 already carry some of the 55 and 70 traffic across those bridges...but you would think a traffic plan could be instituted to "enforce" such a system. Just changing the interstate signs would serve to do that to some degree. If improvements, or alterations, were needed to the existing road system, divert some of the "new bridge" money to do it. Oh sure, some interstate travelers will still want to see the Arch and ignore the signs. But, if many were convinced they would save time by avoiding the PSB, I would think they would.

You could also use some of the fed money to re-engineer the ridiculous exit ramp on the Missouri side of the PSB that currently handles I-55 and 44 traffic. That ramp can not, and does not, handle the tremendous volume of cars and trucks that attempt to use it. If I-55 traffic was diverted south to the JB, at least some of that volume would lessen. But, that ramp would still need to be re-worked. Traffic is always backed up most of the way across the bridge into Illinois trying to get down the hairpin exit ramp. Then all the other traffic has to deal with lane-changing and maneuvering through the backed-up lanes. I believe...and again I'm not an engineer...that re-directing the interstate "through traffic" (over-the-road trucks...and passers-through) to the JB and Chain-of-Rocks would at least give regular commuters a break...even if we can't agree on a new bridge.

When it comes to building a new bridge, it appears the differing agendas of the politicians are the real issue...and not what will properly serve Joe Taxpayer.

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