Monday, September 10, 2012

The New Mississippi River Bridge and Tucker Boulevard

The new Mississippi River bridge, ramps and surface roads are taking shape just north of Downtown in the Near North Riverfront neighborhood.  With my curiosity piqued by a recent blog post on UrbanReviewSTL related to the insane amounts of surface parking lots lining Tucker Blvd. where traffic from the new bridge will be routed south into the city, I decided to take a quick ride over there to check on the progress myself.

This is a historic project for our region and even our country.  You don't get many opportunities to witness construction of a bridge of this magnitude during a lifetime, so it seemed like more photos are in order to help document this work for future generations to look back on.  For more great info and photos of this project, click here for a NextSTL story by Herbie Markwort.  I am fascinated by photos of bridge construction, especially the elegant national treasure that is the Eads bridge:
A trip to the riverfront will provide you with excellent views of the massive, soon to be, cable-stayed bridge currently under construction.  This beauty will consist of two towers, with cables supporting the bridge deck.  The main span of the bridge will be 1,500 feet in length, with a total span of 2,803 feet.  Cables will stretch from the bridge deck to the tops of two A-shaped towers, which will reach 435 feet above I-70. According to the Illinois and Missouri Departments of Transportation, the new bridge’s main span will consist of 1,000 miles of 0.6-inch-diameter stay-cable strand, enough for nearly two round trips from St. Louis to Chicago. Nearly 15,000 tons of structural steel will be used, along with 8,600 tons of reinforcing steel. Some 90,600 cubic yards of concrete will be used in the foundation, deck slab, and towers. Upon completion, the bridge will be the third longest in the United States. (sources
This bridge is no joke and it should look fantastic, especially if lit up at night.  The towers are visible from many different vantage points within the city and the cables are being installed now.  I'm glad we'll have something special here as opposed to another Poplar Street Bridge clone which is as ho-hum and utilitarian as a bridge can be.
So what are we going to name this new modern marvel?  How about the Mound Cities Bridge?  I love the connection to the Cahokians who erected mounds on both sides of the river.  And, Mound Street runs parallel to the ramps that enter St. Louis.
It seems like it would be a missed opportunity if we didn't honor modern-day St. Louis' and Cahokia's connection to the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico circa A.D. 700 - 1400.

Another great call would be something to do with Lewis and Clark or the Louisiana Purchase.  You can't really call it the Lewis & Clark Bridge though, because the other cable-stayed beauty to the north in Alton, Illinois is named the Clark Bridge.

I read of someone else who suggested the Mary Meachum Freedom Bridge which would be another great call for memorializing our rich local history.
In the early morning hours of May 21, 1855 a small group of runaway slaves and their guides crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, attempting to reach a route to freedom through Illinois. Accompanying them was Mary Meachum, a free woman of color and the widow of a prominent African American clergyman. Even today, the activities of the Underground Railroad remain largely shrouded in mystery. This event is remarkably different because the group was apprehended and, since the slaves belonged to the prominent St. Louisan Henry Shaw, a detailed story of the escape was covered in local newspapers. Thus was preserved for posterity a rare example, with exact location, of an Underground Railroad event in Missouri – in fact, the first documented site in the state. In December 2001, the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing was dedicated as part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. (source
Anything unique to the area would please me.  However no such luck to date.  So far politician-supported names thrown out include "Veteran's Memorial Bridge" (which the MLK bridge used to be called), Ronald Reagan Bridge (he was from Dixon, Illinois...albeit > 250 miles from STL), "Jerry F. Costello-William Lacy 'Bill' Clay Sr. Veterans Memorial Bridge" (which just rolls off the tongue) was recently shot down or "Women Veterans Memorial Bridge".  Seems like we can do better, no?.  But at the end of the day, people will call it whatever they want.  You know the PSB is officially named the Bernard F. Dickmann bridge...but no one calls it that.

Anyhow, at an estimated cost of $667M, the new bridge was designed to reroute I-70 off of the Poplar Street Bridge which currently carries I-44, I-55, I-64, I-70 and U.S. 40.  The deck will carry 4 lanes of traffic and will be able to support another lane in each direction.  The bridge should be open to traffic as early as 2014 and full completion is slated for 2015.  The new bridge will forever change the skyline of our great city; and could be one of the most photographed/iconic structures in the region.

The bridge enters St. Louis near Cass Avenue and will take you northwest on the existing I-70 lanes or southeast through the city eventually spilling onto Tucker Boulevard.

Tucker Boulevard or Twelfth Street has been closed north of Washington Blvd. as long as I can remember.  The former Illinois Terminal rail tunnel that went under Tucker was filled in with huge styrofoam blocks and is still under construction.
This high profile stretch of road that divides Downtown from Downtown West has been an official city street since 1844. Its name was changed from Twelfth Street to Twelfth Boulevard in 1932. It became Tucker Boulevard in 1979 in honor of former mayor Raymond R. Tucker. (source)

I agree with Steve Patterson's conclusion that the glut of surface parking lots on both sides of Tucker is less than an inviting stretch of road and infill is greatly needed to make this look like a functioning urban street.  This used to be a vibrant section of the city and has been whittled away over the years to make way for get in/get out auto commuters, especially the Post Dispatch employees. 

Anyhow, projects this big don't come around very often, so the following is my attempt at capturing some photos of the work while still under construction and adding to the many others who are interested enough to photo document this historic project.

For many first time STL visitors, the trip down Tucker will be their first impression. The massive surface parking lots and dead zones are part of the true picture of Downtown St. Louis in its current state...until you get toward Washington Boulevard when things start to look like a real city.  However, if commuters and visitors choose to look up beyond the dead asphalt expanses, you are afforded some nice views of the city skyline. 




And if you are a pedestrian, there are plenty of careful details within the new infrastructure to catch your eye.

From granite curbs to island/median plantings:


To many new street trees and easement plantings, curb bump outs, drop off lanes for buses/taxis/cars and creative/non-standard paver stone patterns in the sidewalks:








To new pedestrian crossings, streetlights and signage:
The bridges are getting new fencing and the street lights are varied with a mix of modern and faux classic.  I like it, you?


Anyhow, take a walk or ride north of Washington Boulevard and witness for yourself this transformational project.  Hopefully investors too will note the opportunities of many, many more commuters and visitors entering the city on Tucker and will scoop up some vacant or under-utilized property to make this part of St. Louis part of St. Louis again!  Instead of some fast food row or other suburban ho-hum generica.

Yet, this project is by no means complete, so we can still hope for more sustainable investment in this part of St. Louis.  We have another example of the "clean slate" mentality that so many developers think is the ultimate necessity for new projects, only time will tell if it anything transformational really happens.
So far only McDonalds has ponied up with a typical suburban drive thru junk food restaurant.

1 comment:

Kevin B - YASTLBlog said...

Instead of some fast food row or other suburban ho-hum generica."

Sadly, I have a sneaking (and unfounded) suspicion that is exactly what will go in on N. Tucker. Prove me wrong, STL!