South County Connector Draws Concerns
Residents questioned the necessity of the massive road project at a meeting Thursday night.
A quicker drive from South County to mid-St. Louis County may be a decade away, but many area residents aren't seeing the need to disrupt their community.
A public presentation of the South County Connector Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) drew scores of residents to the Shrewsbury City Center Thursday. The EIS was the subject of a similar presentation Tuesday at the Affton White-Rodgers Community Center.
St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic officials said the EIS, sponsored by the department in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration is intended to find a way to alleviate traffic congestion in some midcounty areas and create a more direct route from South County to mid-St. Louis County.
Five alternative routes were displayed for an area that is generally bounded by Manchester Road on the north, Hanley Road and Laclede Station Road to Interstate 44 on the west, Murdoch Avenue and Watson Road to the south and Big Bend Boulevard and River Des Peres to the east. The study area includes parts of Maplewood, Webster Groves, Shrewsbury and the southern and southwestern portions of the City of St. Louis.
Some, such as Ralph Maslund, a resident of West Swon Avenue in Webster Groves, feel that it is nothing more than a “make-work” project with no real need.
“What I worry about are the property values,” Maslund said. “This is a make-work project and is really not necessary. I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads 'It's not the government's money, it's our money.' We can't afford it right now.”
“Sure, there's traffic, but you just have to learn to navigate in traffic,” Maslund said, “That's very easy, but this is just a make-work deal for the contractors and the unions. They're going to chop up the area so I personally don't see any use for it.”
David Wrone, spokesman for the St. Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic, said while they have nailed it down to five potential projects, “This is very early in the process.”
“We're not suggesting that any one of these five will ultimately be selected,” Wrone said. “At this point, we want to get the public involved, get their feedback, and by the end of this year we will narrow this list of five down to two or three.”
Wrone said the South County Connector study is anticipated to be finished in early 2013. He said, however, that there is no funding currently available to build any selected route or alternative. The study must be completed and approved by all the agencies involved before any project could be eligible for federal and state funding. If that occurs, construction could begin anywhere in the next five to 10 years, he said.
“We're trying to create a gateway to connect the central corridor to South County and to provide motorists in the South County, Shrewsbury and Affton areas a more direct line to Interstates 55 and 44,” Wrone said. “Right now it's a hodge-podge of roads, and if you try to get from the South County mall to Clayton, how many different roads do you have to take? It's like you're driving an 8-mile long zigzag.”
Wrone cautioned residents to think of the South County Connector as more of a “boulevard, along the lines of a Forest Park Parkway,” than a highway.
Some of the plans call for extensive use of Shrewsbury streets, including Shrewsbury, Landsdowne, Murdoch and Weil Avenues to connect to Watson Road or River Des Peres Avenue, but Shrewsbury Mayor Felicity Buckley said she doesn't see the need.
“My feeling is there is only one good alternate, and that's the River Des Peres extension, and other than that, I would not be in favor of the other alternatives,” she said. “And even with the River Des Peres alternative, I haven't had the opportunity to really study it to know all the details.”
I'd like to get more information as to why we're looking at building roadways as opposed to extending the MetroLink,” Buckley said. “I'm not really sure what the answer is to that, or why we're going to parallel the MetroLink with new roadways. I really don’t know what the thinking behind that is, and I’d like to get some of that information.”
Shrewsbury resident Patty Klebolt lives on Wilshusen Avenue, just a stone's throw from some of the plan's proposed routes, and wonders about her property values.
“It looks like I'm on the cusp, just a little bit south of Weil Avenue, so it doesn't look like it would be a direct impact, but it could be an indirect impact,” she said. “It would be if they're going to do buyouts to get it done. How is that going to impact my property values if I’m not directly impacted?
“I know this is to alleviate congestion, but what's that going to ultimately do to my area?” she asked. “Will it be a desirable area in the future? That's what I'm trying to figure out. They've got so many plans but they're all kind of going everywhere and it's going to impact a lot of people. Nobody wants it in their backyard, but what are you going to do?”
To see the potential routes and the pros and cons for each plan, the display boards from the meetings are available on the project's website.