Good infrastructure is the cornerstone of a strong economy. That’s why the I-64 reconstruction project is vitally important to the region. But, just as important as building the project is building it the right way. There has to be a good traffic plan that allows commuters to get to their jobs, customers to businesses, and keeps the region’s economy growing.
Finding the right balance has, so far, been more speculative than factual.
That’s about to change. This morning, I introduced the findings of a consulting group retained by the City and the Downtown Partnership. (When there is a link, I’ll post it here.)
The study’s major findings are both reassuring and telling: Although it is possible to undertake the I-64 project while maintaining the vitality of the region’s economy and protecting key economic engines and activity centers, it will only happen if we all work together.
The traffic solutions proposed by the study include using parts of I-64 itself, alternative roads and highways, Metrolink, busses, and ridesharing. Which parts, which roads, and how much additional funding will be required are all subject to further discussion.
In a way, this is a simple mathematical equation. There are a certain number of motorists who need to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. But, it is also very complicated. You certainly do not want to extend the disruption any longer than necessary.
There has to be a balance: a viable traffic maintenance plan that allows commuters to get to work without unduly lengthening the project. It is my hope that this study and another study St. Louis County is completing will provide data to help everyone find that balance.
This particular study looked at the differences between maintaining the equivalents of four lanes and of two lanes of traffic. St. Louis County is looking at the effects of maintaining three lanes.
The study found there is excess capacity on the roads and highways that will be the alternatives to I-64 during construction. Other roads and highways will be able to adequately handle the equivalent of one-third of the current volume on I-64 during the morning and afternoon commutes. To our consultants, that means the other roads and highways can make up for the volume of one lane of I-64 traffic each way.
That further means I-64 and other alternatives must handle the other two-thirds of the current volume to minimize disruption.
That does not mean that MoDOT has to keep four lanes of I-64 open - and I am not saying that. There could be fewer lanes open if enough traffic is reduced by the use of light rail, busses, ride sharing, flex time, telecommuting, and other alternatives.
This could happen.
It is already clear that every solution will require that businesses, local governments, and Metro work together-- not separately - on such subjects like the timely dissemination of information, aggressive traffic management, creative signal and signage coordination, thoughtful construction staging, and reasonable shift times.
Once St. Louis County has finished its study, it is my hope that we can take their data and our data and create one set of performance standards and recommendations that can be inserted into the Design/Build RFP.
We will certainly need good, accurate information to be made public so everyone can fully understand the trade-offs between a reasonable traffic plan and a longer construction schedule. We do not need misinformation.
For instance, there is an assertion by an unidentified source in today’s newspaper that maintaining the equivalent of four lanes of traffic would double the project’s construction time. If there is an engineer who believes that, he or she should produce the work product that proves the case. If we are going to build this project in the right way, we need to base our decisions on good hard data, not intuition or guesswork.