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Interior, Transport secretaries to visit Gateway Arch grounds

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 8, 2010 - WASHINGTON - For the second time in four months, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is planning to pay a visit to the Gateway Arch grounds, this time accompanied by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The focus of their visit on Friday will be to continue discussions with local and state officials and sponsors about plans to improve the grounds of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the East St. Louis riverfront, better connecting the two sides of the Mississippi River.

Salazar, who visited the Arch grounds in August, and LaHood are expected to make statements at Malcolm Martin Jr. Memorial Park -- on Front Street on the East St. Louis riverfront -- toward the end of their tour. The park would be part of a 60-acre wetland reserve area under the tentative plan.

Last summer, a plan proposed by the Michael Van Valkenburg Associates (MVVA) team was chosen as the winner of a design competition for the Gateway Arch grounds. The plan is now being revised in response to questions raised by the project's Technical Advisory Group, which includes about 20 federal, state and local agencies, such as Missouri and Illinois highway officials, the Coast Guard and the National Park Service.

The Interior Department will be a key player in improvements because its National Park Service is in charge of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. LaHood's transportation department would have a say in elements of the expansion that might affect the interstate highway, river crossings or other transport issues.

Under the MVVA design, there would be three above-ground structures on the Arch grounds, including a museum rooftop terrace, a courtyard and a mostly glass entrance facing Memorial Drive for an expanded museum beneath the Arch. In addition to a landscaped "lid" over Interstate 70, the plan calls for demolishing an Arch grounds parking garage and adding an ampitheater and other features in the area near the Eads Bridge.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was scheduled to accompany the two federal department heads on the visit, but a spokeswoman said Wednesday that the senator may have to stay in Washington because of important votes scheduled Friday in the Senate. Spokesmen for U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan, both D-St. Louis, also said possible votes in the U.S. House might keep them in D.C. that day.

The biggest challenge to the project will be raising the necessary funds from private, state, local and federal sources. While members of the regional delegation in Congress all express support for the project, some are concerned that it may be difficult to get large appropriations of federal funding in the new Congress, which starts in January.

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

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