Since the completion of the design competition and selection of MVVA as the winning team, the specifics of the Arch improvement program and the timing of implementation have been unclear. While there is still no definitive plan for the Arch grounds, pieces of the overall program seem to be designed on an ad-hoc basis.
Without explanation, the East Side area has been removed completely from the environmental review underway for the Arch improvement program. Initially, improving the connection to the East Side was a major emphasis of both the overall National Park Service General Management Plan and the CityArchRiver competition. At this time, the East Side appears to have been completely removed from the proposal for the October 2015 deadline. Furthermore, while details of plans for the actual Arch grounds and its adjacent streets are not known, major changes to Kiener Plaza are being proposed, including removal of the popular waterfall feature, community gathering space, and main stage. The future of the circular pond and statue is unknown. This raises a fundamental question: if funding cannot be found to examine the most comprehensive connectivity solution, then why should we spend resources to erase and rebuild Kiener Plaza for the third time in half a century?
While not included in the design competition, MODOT is proposing major changes to Memorial Drive and the depressed lanes, including adding two freeway ramps between the Mansion House and the Arch Grounds. Before opening the concept to public comment and completing environmental review, MODOT has scheduled the new freeway ramps for construction beginning in Spring 2012.
At the same time, funding for improving the Arch grounds themselves is not yet in place. Is it possible that MODOT will be building new highway ramps and widening the depressed lanes while others are still trying to identify funding sources to build the lid and redo Kiener Plaza?
The effort to improve the Arch grounds is complex and very expensive. Funding is tight and plans remain in flux. A self-imposed deadline is rapidly approaching. City to River is concerned that the project is moving forward without acceptable strategies for improvements, funding, traffic circulation, completed environmental review, transparency and community involvement.
In a worst case scenario, it is conceivable that the arch would be further isolated from downtown with expansive new highway ramps next year, and a lack of funding would force the elimination of the cap. If that were to happen the outcome would be far worse than the initial condition.