The New Memorial Drive: The Affordable Solution to Reconnecting City to River

Removing the depressed and elevated lanes of the former Interstate 70 through downtown and replacing them with an at-grade boulevard would be a less costly alternative to other proposed solutions, both in the long and short terms.

Walnut Bridge

Photo by Paul Hohmann

The route for the New Memorial Drive runs 1.4 miles along the existing I-70 right of way from the Poplar Street Bridge to Cass Avenue. Construction of the boulevard involves mostly demolition, fill and paving at grade, plus minor costs for cosmetic improvements and safety equipment. Another recent local roadway project provides an easy means of estimating an approximate cost for the project. Final costs for the new Highway 40/64 were $524 million for 10.5 miles of work, including more than 25 new bridge structures and the 170/64 interchange–an average cost of about $50 million per mile. Assuming similar pricing for the New Memorial Drive, the 1.4 mile boulevard will cost about $70 million. This estimate is probably high because there will be no new bridge structures included in the project. Maintenance of the boulevard will cost no more than any other prominent City street.

In the 2007 Danforth Foundation report, the cost of the previously proposed “Lid” concept–which is functionally a tunnel–was estimated at $87 million. This design only spans three blocks of the 20 block problem, leaving the elevated lanes to the north and flyover ramps to the south in place and doing nothing to connect those areas, including the Washington Avenue corridor, with the river. The tunnel presents security issues, not only in crime, but increased opportunity for terrorist activity; as a result, current guidelines require a subgrade surveillance area adjacent to the tunnel that would require tearing apart the western side of the existing Arch Grounds for its construction. In addition, the proposed tunnel would require $900,000 annually for maintenance, staffing, and operation, meaning an $18 million dollar endowment will need to be raised to finance the first 20 years alone. Compared to these figures, $70 million for a 1.4 mile New Memorial Drive that solves all the connection problems and provides an opportunity to return land currently used as roadway to the tax rolls is a much better value.

Doing nothing also has an economic cost. The depressed and elevated lanes of former Interstate 70 were constructed in the early 1960s. As this infrastructure ages, the maintenance expenses rise. In February 2010, KSDK ran a series of reports about the physical condition of the aging interstate bridges Downtown, including the Walnut Street bridge, the ramps to the Poplar Street Bridge, and the Broadway bridge over I-70. The series also covered concrete crumbling from the Highway 40/64 viaduct which is a few years younger than the I-70 structures. These problems will continue to escalate in frequency, severity and cost as time passes. We are at a historic junction of need, civic desire, and opportunity. The time to address all of these issues with a unified solution is now.

2 Responses to “The New Memorial Drive: The Affordable Solution to Reconnecting City to River”

  1. Mark Magas says:

    This is a great proposal. What is the process for getting it off the drawing table and breaking ground? Has there been a vote in the Bord of Alderman? Has any one drafted a bill in Jeff City? Are our Congressman in line? What about candidates? Have they gotten behind it? Who do we need to ENCOURAGE to get this very important economic feature completed? Whom do we need to suupport to ensure they stay in positions of authority?

    I am ready. Where do I volunteer?

  2. Nate says:

    Resistance from the entrenched power establishment is already brewing, but the good news is that C2R is a win-win. Framed in the right political context, getting this done should be a breeze.

    Now, about that political context…

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