For more than a decade, the St. Louis region has planned for a new Mississippi River Bridge.
We decided collectively - after much thought, many public meetings, and a great deal of planning - that a new Mississippi River bridge is vitally important to the future of our economy and our quality of life.
We agreed that a new bridge would make it easier for commuters to get into and out of Downtown. That would help us grow Downtown, which is important because Downtown is the City’s and the region’s central business district.
We agreed that a new bridge would improve interstate traffic in St. Louis, which would help our economy.
And, we agreed that a new bridge would bolster the economy of Southwest Illinois, which would make the entire region stronger and more competitive.
Because this region made the collective decision to build a new bridge, I have worked over the last year to bring Missouri and Illinois together to find common ground on the issues of finance and design. I have purposely not taken sides or tried to prove a point. Many people - including elected officials and leaders in the business community - have worked just as hard at getting consensus.
But, you’ll notice that there is no bridge building going on today. And, after a year of working on a compromise, I have to tell you that I don’t think it likely that a new bridge will be built anytime soon.
I hope the events of the next day and a half prove me wrong. A group of experts is meeting today and tomorrow to discuss the bridge. Maybe they will emerge with an agreement. More likely, they will just walk out with more arguments.
The two and a half million people in this region deserve better.
Twice before, St. Louis has stood at this crossroads and failed to make the correct decisions. We failed to build a timely new railroad crossing over the Mississippi River in the 1850s and Chicago passed us by. Later, we failed to move the region’s airport to a more central location in the 1970s, and other hub cities passed us by.
This bridge - which is as important as the timely railroad bridge and the central airport - will only get built if Missouri and Illinois cooperate. The original project won’t get built without Illinois. An alternative won’t get built without Missouri.
It’s that simple.
Instead of trying to prove who is right and who is wrong, the experts and their sponsors should spend the next two days working to get the leaders of the two states to talk to each other - and listen to each other.
If Missouri and Illinois don’t come together, an historic economic opportunity will be missed. Again.