Action Alert: Oppose St. Louis South County Connector plan, Sign letters & petitions asking for reconsideration

The South County Connector is a proposed major new multi-lane highway cutting through heavily populated areas of Maplewood, Webster Groves, Shrewsbury, and St. Louis City. In its current form, it is now opposed by all cities involved--in large part because of large negative impacts on bicycle, pedestrian, and transit connectivity through area. The planning process, led by the County and MoDOT, has not given nearly enough thought, consideration, priority or funding to bicycle and pedestrian connections, transit, or comprehensive travel demand reduction strategies.

The opportunity now is to re-think the project--perhaps turning from a 1970s-style big highway project to a 21st Century integrated transportation solution.

South County Connector logo
South County Connector logo

But St. Louis County decision-makers need to hear from you--citizens who are affected by this poorly conceived project and care about its effect on our community:

>>Take Action: Visit Trailnet's Action Page to sign a petition asking decision makers to withdraw the current Environmental Impact Statement and re-think the project, send letters to key officials, and join Trailnet's South Connector events July 16th.

>>Leave a comment on the official South County Connector public comment page.

South County Connector Background

Trailnet and Great Rivers Greenway are on record opposing the South County Connector.  Trailnet's petition asks the County to completely withdraw the current draft Environmental Impact Statement and reconsider the project from the start.

All cities along the proposed route oppose the project: Maplewood, Shrewsbury, Webster Groves, and now St. Louis:

St. Louis County will build and maintain the road, which runs mostly in southeastern St. Louis County. But the planned route cuts off a small part of River Des Peres Park in the city, and will run on top of two bike trails,  which could crimp future expansion of the trail network.

It's not fair, said Ald. Scott Ogilvie, that city residents are impacted by something that "is designed for people commuting from Mehlville to Clayton."

"What is more important that shaving 15 seconds off someone’s commute time is providing a quality place to live for our residents," Ogilvie said.

It's not just bicyclists and pedestrians in the city who will be impacted, argued Ald. Donna Baringer. She says the connector's route will result in more traffic along River Des Peres Boulevard – a road that already needs work.

Scathing opposition from Maplewood 

The official response letter by the City of Maplewood is nothing short of scathing in its opposition to the project and the draft EIS. NextSTL excerpts some of the most pointed comments:

Relocating traffic: The City of Maplewood questions the wisdom on spending tens of millions of dollars to shift one conflict traffic area to another location. The Draft EIS should explain, comprehensively, all of the foreseen impacts of the project, not only those that are convenient to detail.

Level of Service: (The Draft EIS) indicates that level of service (LOS) on the study area roads will generally not deteriorate and, in some cases, actually improve in the long term if the South County Connector is not built which begs the question, why this roadway is even being considered?

Safety: Moreover, fatal and personal injury accidents in the study area have decreased from 76 incidents in 2007 to 42 incidents in 2010 – a 44.7% decrease. To suggest that the traffic and safety conditions are worsening is illogical.

Fewer residents and miles driven: Accidents are not the only thing decreasing in the study area, local population and the number of vehicle miles driven County-wide are also decreasing.

Transportation choices: Multi-modal transportation concerns in the region are severely lacking, and this project will at best have no meaningful effect and at worse create massive barriers to future progress. We have seen no details nor been given any meaningful assurances that this project would do anything other than bisect and segregate our community further.

We believe that the No Build option was not properly vetted as an alternative and should be reconsidered on the basis that the same amount of funding put into bike and pedestrian improvements in the same footprint would accomplish the same goals of reducing traffic, promoting mass transit use, and improve safety.

Ask NextSLT points out in its article on the Maplewood letter, it is very unusual for a city to state such direct and forceful opposition to a project. Usually such letters are couched in far more diplomatic terms.

St. Louis County out of touch with residents' real needs: Healthy, livable communities

St. Louis County's response to Maplewood's strong opposition to the Connector showed a stunning blindness to the real needs of County citizens and the communities it serves.

Alex Ihnen of NextSTL summarizes the situation well:

“We’re a highway department; we’re not a bicycle department.” This is how a spokesperson for the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic decided to deride opposition to the proposed South County Connector project. The statement, offered to reporter Michael Calhoun of KMOX, is both revealing and a display of stunning ignorance.

There is no bicycle department in St. Louis County, nor a pedestrian department, nor a quality of life department, though there should be. The Department of Highways and Traffic, however, does exist within an environment that includes these unformalized concerns. Nearly every cyclist is also a motorist. Nearly every pedestrian also travels in a car. The idea that a highway is a highway, nothing more and nothing less, insulated from other concerns is myopic, dysfunctional and untrue.

The statement above reveals that not only is there not a “bicycle department,” but that the Department of Highways and Traffic will refuse to acknowledge the voices of those who it would derogatorily label as such. In its espoused worldview, municipalities and concerns other than level of service (for cars) and traffic throughput are obstacles to be first avoided, then dismissed and likely next attacked.

As Streetsblog put it, the St Louis Highway Department's statement is "local transportation officials admitting what generally goes unspoken."  The upside: The county's intransigent attitude has helped galvanize opposition to the Connector--and that opposition could help change or defeat this project and, perhaps, start to change the County's attitude towards biking, walking and transit.

Cost-benefit analysis of this $100 million project: It's just not there

Trailnet's summary of issues with the Connector includes this telling point:

  • The DEIS does not include a cost-benefit analysis. If taxpayers are going to pay approximately $110 million for a new roadway, we should clearly know the benefits we’ll get in return. For example, how much time will be saved from the reduced congestion, within how many years will the roadway capacity be filled, how much value will be forfeited in areas adjacent to the South County Connector that could have had future walkable and bikeable development?? 
    Triple Bottom Line Cost/Benefit Analysis
    Triple Bottom Line Cost/Benefit Analysis

We have been encouraging transportation agencies across the state, including MoDOT to include a full cost-benefit analysis of all transportion projects, adding up all project costs and benefits--including to the economy, to health and wellness, to the environment, and to taxpayers.  Ideally, transportation agencies would use a sophisticated, modern triple bottom line cost and benefit analysis, as many companies do now.

Agencies should also incorporate Least Cost Planning procedures, which fully evaluate costs and benefits of all potential ways to solve the transportation problem at question--which usually includes issues of cost to taxpayers, traffic congestion, pollution, parking, safety, health, environment, land use, transportation choice and mobility, community livability, and others.  

When all these factors are considered, multimodal transportation and transportation demand reduction options often prove themselves far more cost-effective than simple--but very expensive--highway building.

So does the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Connector include sophisticated analyses such as these to determine whether the project is returning maximum value to the taxpayers and to the communities it serves?

No. But beyond this, the EIS doesn't even include a basic, simple cost-benefit analysis!

For example, the Initial Screening criteria that resulted in the elimination of "Transportation System and Travel Demand Management" as a option is a simple matrix that lists whether each option of capable of meeting various points listed in the purpose and need (see Table 3-2 here). But what about any consideration of the cost involved in producing the claimed benefit, and consideration of the value of the claimed benefit to the community?

And what about potential very large negative impacts and costs--unintended side effects?  Those aren't factored in, either.

Just for example, a complete cost/benefit analysis of a new freeway interchange might include factors such as these:

  • Cost of construction
  • Cost of annual maintenance
  • Cost of increase congestion/traffic on local roads that connect to the interchange
  • Cost/value of increased or decreased bicycle and pedestrian access through the area (most often a new interchange has far worse bicycle and pedestrian level of service than the lower traffic road it replaces)
  • Value of saved travel time
  • Cost of land used for the interchange
  • Cost/benefits of changes are land use brought about by the interchange and resulting change in travel patterns

Just for example, a recent MoDOT project cost taxpayers $250 million and was projected to save the average commuter about 30 seconds of travel time daily.  

So if reduced travel time and congestion are the primary purpose and benefit of the project, taxpayers need to think pretty carefully about whether or not the benefits of the project justify its price tag.

 

Why is the Connector even necessary? Maybe it's not . . .

Over the past several years, MoBikeFed has summarized the data showing that, after a century of hyper-growth in the amount of driving in the U.S., over the past decade the amount of driving has leveled off and even dropped

Vehicle Miles Traveled in the U.S.
Vehicle Miles Traveled in the U.S.

So why, in a era of declining driving, do we need massive new highway projects in parts of the state and have been completely urbanized and densel populated for decades?

The answer is, we don't need them at all.

But highway officials are still in the mindset that they learned decades ago, when traffic counts were going up-up-up with no end in sight. Traffic engineers are planning as though we were still on the steep upward part of the traffic curve (right) when we are now on a flat to slightly downward part of the curve.

Meanwhile, what is dramatically increasing is the amount of walking, biking, and transit use.  It's not that driving is going away as a transportation choice--especially in a place like St. Louis County. But even in St. Louis County, we're finding a new balance, where bicycling, walking, and transit have a higher priority, because those options make our communities healthier, more human, and more livable.

We're buildling our communities for people.  The ability to travel by automobile is just one of the factors to consider when planning our communities--and not always the most important one.

Take action

>>Take Action: Visit Trailnet's Action Page to sign a petition asking decision makers to withdraw the current Environmental Impact Statement and re-think the project, send letters to key officials, and join Trailnet's South Connector events July 16th.

>>Leave a comment on the official South County Connector public comment page.

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