East West Gateway released two reports today on the Mississippi River Bridge project one from a paid consultant, the other from a panel of experts.
The reports put three major options on the table. Here’s what I think about them.Work on both plans. The first option that emerges from the reports is that Missouri begin working with Illinois on an Environmental Impact Study for the MLK Coupler bridge while, simultaneously, Illinois begins working with Missouri on a tolling option for a full bridge. If the Missouri tolling option doesn’t work out, Illinois would not have lost any time planning for the Coupler. I think that this option is pretty complicated, but that it rightly points out that no bridge will get built unless both Missouri and Illinois give some ground. The real problem with the option, though, is that there is little realistic chance that both states will agree to it.Work on the Coupler plan. This option is to go ahead and start planning to build the King Coupler bridge. I have said I won’t even consider the King Coupler until the original bridge project is dead. When (if) that moment comes, I’ll make a decision about the Coupler. But, I think there is no reason to spend any money on the Coupler unless MoDOT agrees that it is an option worthy of study. Solve the short-term traffic plans now; build a bridge another day. The third option is the so-called the "phased approach." With almost no likelihood that the two states will come to an agreement anytime soon, the region could seek legislative authority to use the $239 million earmarked for the construction of a new bridge to improve the existing crossings including fixing the Poplar Street Bridge ramps, building the I-64 tri-level interchange, and improving Illinois Route 3. These improvements could provide relief to the existing bottlenecks while the two states continue to wrangle on a mutually acceptable way to finance a new bridge. These financing mechanisms could include additional federal aid in the next highway bill and revenue from Missouri’s next transportation plan, which is expected to go to voters some time in the next four years. I still hold out some hope that Missouri and Illinois will come to an agreement, but if that does not happen soon, I think that this third option becomes the one worth considering.