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Arch Grounds project to get $20 million grant for I-70 work

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 13, 2011 - WASHINGTON - The Gateway Arch expansion project will get a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for "roadway improvements along the I-70 corridor" near the Arch grounds, officials announced Monday.

The grant is expected to help pay for transportation infrastructure improvements -- including erecting a "lid" over the sunken Interstate 70 lanes that now separate the Arch grounds from the downtown area. The funding will come from the DOT's TIGER III discretionary grant fund.

"As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch in 2015, I'm very pleased that DOT awarded this grant to the CityArchRiver 2015 initiative, which is truly a public-private partnership of national significance," said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in announcing the grant.

The grant will go to the CityArchRiver 2015 initiative, which launched the design competition for a proposed $578 million project to improve the Gateway Arch grounds and better link the area to downtown St. Louis and to East St. Louis.

"This grant will help fund infrastructure projects that will facilitate more visitors and greater access to the Gateway Arch grounds, which is critically important as we work to spur economic opportunity and attract new visitors each year."

In a Dec. 1 letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Blunt joined Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan, both D-St. Louis, in supporting the CityArchRiver 2015 application for funding for the project.

Start of update: In a statement Tuesday, McCaskill said that "much hard work remains" to get funding for the Arch project, but she was encouraged by the initial grant.

"The entire Jefferson National Expansion Memorial -- including the Arch and the Old Courthouse -- is synonymous with St. Louis and America's westward expansion," McCaskill said. "This competitive grant will help to improve safety and accessibility. While much hard work remains, this is an important first step in making St. Louis' vision of a revitalized memorial a reality.  I congratulate the applicants for constructing a meritorious project and application." End of update.

The DOT grant for this year is less than what was requested. According to the congressional letter, the grant application asked for $30.7 million to make infrastructure improvements along the I-70 corridor near the Arch grounds.

Another $10 million was requested for improvements along Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard to allow for greater access to the Mississippi riverfront and the St. Louis Port District. And $2.3 million was requested to help complete the River Ring Trail system between St. Louis and East St. Louis.

Walter Metcalfe, lead director for the CityArchRiver group, called the federal grant "a huge first step'' and noted that 800 projects had competed for a share of the $500 million awarded.

"We received an important share of this money,'' Metcalfe said. Coupled with the state aid, and $10 million in private donations, the group now has amassed $57.2 million. Metcalfe acknowledged that more than $500 million still needs to be raised and emphasized that "we want to do it right."

Among other things, Metcalfe said the project calls for revamping the downtown roadways, including the Eads Bridge interchange with Washington Avenue.

Metcalfe added, though, that CityArchRiver is assembling a new cost estimate for the project, which will be announced in January. "We've come a long way with the design,'' he said. "We're moving forward." 

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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