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Focus Stays on Jobs During Route 141 Groundbreaking

Fri May 28, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin

“Jobs, jobs, jobs” were once again center stage as St. Louis County officials broke ground recently on the long-awaited expansion and rerouting of Missouri Route 141.

The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to move the road to the east and improve it between Olive Boulevard (Missouri Route 340) and Ladue Road. The northern part of Route 141 is known as Woods Mill Road. The new road will continue to be called Route 141 on the state portion while the area north of Olive will be called the Maryland Heights Expressway. The project is schedule to be completed by the end of summer 2012.

The work is being done to improve congestion, increase safety and deal with flooding.

At the same time St. Louis County will build the so-called “Page-Olive Connector” that will link the southern extension of the Maryland Heights Expressway from Page Avenue (Missouri Route 364) to the new Route 141 at Olive. St. Louis County is using $20 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus funding) to build the connector with Maryland Heights and Chesterfield contributing $5 million each. The project, a four-lane limited access roadway, is being done to relieve traffic on local roads. A third lane may be added in the future.

When complete, Route 141 will connect I-55 and I-70 opening almost 3,000 acres of land to development to generate much-needed jobs in the region, officials said. At $44 million, the project is the biggest single stimulus act project MoDOT has undertaken.

“This has been a vision to connect (Route) 141 from I-55 all the way to the I-70 for many years,” said MoDOT district engineer Ed Hassinger at the groundbreaking. “As long as I’ve been here we’ve been talking about this and finally that reality is coming true, mostly because of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.”

While other states opted to do simple resurfacing projects with their stimulus money Missouri decided to “tackle some of the tougher projects that really made a difference,” Hassinger said. “I think here you’re going to see long-term benefits as well as the immediate benefit of putting people to work.”

With the site muddy from recent rains, officials lifted gravel in their shovels to mark the groundbreaking.

The project is about “jobs and opportunity,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “This is going to open up 3,000 acres of land—probably 2,600 acres of that land is going to be developable land. It’s going to be the center place of St. Louis County in the 21st century to create jobs and opportunity.”

Dooley said stimulus funding made the project possible.

In an interview following the groundbreaking Dooley called the project “a great thing” adding: “This has been coming for 40 years. This is going to change the landscape of our economic development for St. Louis County. It’s going to shift, I believe, the development towards this way. It’s great progress. This is good stuff.”

Dooley brushed off concerns of some that the project will wipe out farmland in St. Louis County.

“What we’re looking for is the win-win situation,” he said. “Hopefully we do things that make a great difference. There are a lot of opportunities for our businesses. They want to expand in St. Louis County but we’re an urban county. We’re mostly built up. We’ve got to develop more expandable areas for businesses to grow but, more importantly, for business to be attracted to St. Louis County. I think we can do it holistically doing it together.”

Mayor John Nations of suburban Chesterfield echoed Dooley’s sentiments. “Today we take a giant step forward to improve St. Louis County and to improve our region,” he said. “This project which has been on the drawing board for decades is about to become reality. It will allow our people to move more effectively and more efficiently around our region. It will promote economic growth. It will promote job creation and it will enhance the quality of life for all people through St. Louis County and the St. Louis region.”

After the meeting Nations said one of the most important things for job creation and economic growth is improving infrastructure. “This is a vital piece of that infrastructure so I very much look forward to the project,” he said.

In addition to more efficiently move people, the new road will help to remove cut-through traffic from Chesterfield’s neighborhoods, he said. “There are a lot of aspects, a lot of good things about this project.”

Nations said he doesn’t think the road will contribute to urban sprawl.

“Even if we don’t have this road, we already have the traffic,” he said. “In order to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods, we need to get the traffic onto the corridors and out of our residential neighborhood. So whether the road gets built or not, we’ve already got a tremendous amount of traffic we need to adjust for,” he added.

Work to bring the project to fruition started about 15 years ago when Republican Congressman Todd Aiken was a state representative. “Everybody realized we had a lot of east-west roads but not very many north-south ones and making the connection with (Route) 141 was just logical and important,” Aiken said.

At the time, state and local officials agreed the project was needed but funding was an issue, he said.

Now there’s “a certain irony in the situation” for him, Aiken said, because the project is being paid for “by a bill I hated and I didn’t vote for.”

The fact that the St. Louis area is benefiting from stimulus funding doesn’t change his opinion of the bill, Aiken said. “I still wouldn’t vote for it,” he added.

“On the other hand, we ended up getting the money for this project which is a very high priority. I think it’s going to make the traffic flow a whole lot better for the people from Missouri. I think it’s a good thing for our area, a good thing for jobs and it’s the right thing for us to be doing.”

Bobs Burns, a field representative for Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, held up a copy of the ARRA as he began to make his comments and noted:

“This project is being built with stimulus money. We can thank President Barack Obama for his vision for the stimulus money.” Burns commended McCaskill and others “who braved all the negatives.”

Stimulus funding is creating the jobs to build the project, he said. “It is also going to make a safer road,” he added noting that Route 141 “sat here for 56 years” requiring children, employees and others to enter and access the Parkway School District high school, middle school, administration building and bus garage nearby under “unsafe conditions.”

“This is now going to be fixed because of stimulus money,” he said. “It is also going to bring economic development to this district because of the dual lane highway that’s going to stretch all the way from Jeffco (Jefferson County) Boulevard in Arnold all the way to the Page Avenue extension (in St. Louis County). That’s going to bring economic development.”

Burns also commended St. Louis County for funding the Page-Olive connector project.

“St. Louis County stepped up to the plate with stimulus money and they’re going to create the project on the other side of Olive,” he said. “They had a lot of stimulus money they could use (for other things) but they’re using it for this project because it’s for the greater good.”

Burns said McCaskill could not attend the groundbreaking because she had to be in Washington for a “small issue they’re working on called health care reform.”

Republican State Senator Jane Cunningham called the groundbreaking “especially sweet” for her.

“This has been a long time in coming,” she said adding that the Route 141 extension was one of the first projects she worked on when she was elected to the state legislature about a decade ago.

Cunningham said she was happy that the route has been moved east away from the entrance moved east of Green Trails subdivision and away from the schools to make the road safer.

The design has been changed to add a direct entrance into Ladue Farms subdivision from Route141, and the intersection at St. Luke’s Hospital will be much safer, she said. “That’s particularly gratifying to me to see how government and citizens can work together for the advantage of both,” she said adding that it’s “icing on the cake” to have local contractor Fred Weber building the road.

In an interview after the groundbreaking, Garry Earls, St. Louis County chief operating officer, also praised the project.

“The meaning of this is we made another step forward to connect North County and South County,” he said. “This is a great connector from north to south. We have lots of cap now with I-64 now east and west but we have to be able to make connections north and south. It opens almost 3,000 acres for economic development, for commercial construction in that area. We expect that is very close to the economic center of St. Louis County and therefore very close to the center of our economy.”

Earls acknowledged that the project would probably eat up much of the remaining farmland in St. Louis County. “The sprawl has already happened further west,” he said. “What this will do is help us to centralize what we’ve got.”

Built in the 1930s, Route 141 cannot handle current traffic, MoDOT said. More than 23,000 cars use the two-lane stretch each day, and traffic is expected to increase by up to 35 percent in the area over the next 20 years, the agency said.

MoDOT said accidents are nearly double the statewide average and flooding occurs several times a year there.

As with many projects, the greatest challenges are land acquisition and utility relocation, Hassinger said in an interview after the meeting. MoDOT has acquired most of the right-of-way although a few parcels are now in condemnation, he said.

Crews were already working on relocating the utilities before the groundbreaking, Hassinger said.

“We let a project last year to move utilities so they can lower the road without having the utilities in the way,” he said. “We don’t anticipate there being any serious problems here. Fred Weber is poised and ready to go.”

Once the utilities and land acquisition are complete, work should move rapidly, Hassinger said. “We have great contractors so that usually never is the issue. Once we’ve cleared right of way and utilities, they can usually go quickly.”

Hassinger said the road “definitely goes through some of the power cut” along the wooded stretch the project goes through so it probably won’t displace much farmland adding, “I don’t know that much of this was actually being very actively farmed.”

Two other issues for the project are traffic control and wetland mitigation. Neither should present a problem, Hassinger said.

“There definitely are a lot of creeks and wetlands through this area but we’ve been very careful to mitigate them,” he said. “Our project will not destroy any of that.”

If the project does need to intrude on wetlands, the loss will be offset with the creation of wetlands elsewhere within the corridor, he said.

And motorists can relax. Hassinger said the project won’t bring major closures although some lane closures will occur.

“We’re going to build this with Olive Road still under traffic,” he said. Crews will build a by-pass and move Olive over about 100 feet so traffic can continue to move on a four-lane road, he said.

“We will cut the road bed down and then build the bridge where Olive goes over,” he said. “That will be a challenge dealing with traffic a little bit but not anything major. Were not going to close Olive so it will still function.”

The new road is the “last piece” of an expressway north of Highway 40 (I-64),” Hassinger said.

“This is going to create that connection we’ve been working toward for many years,” he said. “It’s going to be good. There are a lot of other projects that tie into this project that people really don’t think about.”

Those include a new flyover ramp at Dorsett Road and I-270, a new interchange at Page Avenue and I-270 and major work on Page Avenue in St. Charles County, he said.

“The combination of all those projects together is really going to make a much better situation for traffic and make it much more attractive for business and other people to locate there,” he said.

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