ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – The plan to remake the grounds surrounding the Arch in time for the 50th anniversary of its completion took a huge step forward Friday with a groundbreaking for the “Park over the Highway” project sometimes called the “I-70 Lid.”
The dirt they overturned was only ceremonial, but what it represents will be monumental, fundamentally changing the area around the symbol of St. Louis by better uniting it with St. Louis.
“This is a very exciting day,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. “It is a day generations from now will be discussing and remember and enjoying for a long, long time.”
By October 2015, the noisy stretch of Memorial Drive over the depressed lanes of Interstate 70 will be turned into a placid greenspace, seamlessly leading visitors from downtown St. Louis to the Gateway Arch, where even more improvements to the grounds and the museum will await them.
The total cost is $380 million. About $ 221 million is being raised through private donations. The rest is coming from taxpayers, including $90 million from a voter approved sales tax increase which passed in April. Only $29 million is coming from the federal government, even though the Arch grounds are also a national park.
“There has not ever been a community that has taxed itself to support a federal park and there is only one other place where you have seen the kind of public private partnership that we have here in St. Louis and that’s Ellis Island,” said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. “I’ll put my Arch up against that Statue of Liberty any day,” she said.
Among those in town for the groundbreaking were two new members of President Obama’s cabinet, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
“Everyone knows when you are in St. Louis, you have to see the Arch and that is why it is important for residents and tourists alike that they can enjoy the riverfront safely and with ease whether they are in a car or on foot or on a bicycle,” Foxx said.
Also lauding the city with praise and promises of good things to come was U.S Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, “Two-point-two million visited this Arch last year and they contributed just shy of $100 million to this economy and 1,252 jobs. When this project is finished, there will be 4,400 jobs.”
Tourists visiting the Arch Friday thought the plan sounded promising.
“I think that is a really good idea because it is a little difficult to cross traffic with children,” said Jane Tinsely, visiting St. Louis with her family from Pennsylvania.
But Tom Bradley, the Superintendent of the Arch, says much of the improvements are aimed at locals, “It may attract more people, but the one we’d really like to hit are people who live in the region and give them a reason to come back because often you just come here if someone from out-of-town is visiting and I think that is something we’d like to change.”
Of the $221 million in private money, about $100 million has already been raised, which is enough to get started.
The real turning of the dirt begins next week as MoDOT goes to work changing the infrastructure of Memorial Drive.
“Never again will I look at that Arch and just think how cool it is,” McCaskill said. “I am going to think how it symbolizes this community and how we are willing to give more and do better to improve our community.”