According to a survey performed by HDR Consulting in coordination with MoDOT, the two-year closure of I-64 had no discernible economic impact on businesses near the highway as compared to businesses elsewhere in the St. Louis region. HDR Consulting believes that any economic impacts felt by area businesses had more to do with the general economic downturn than the highway closure.

Think about that again for a moment: the closure of a highway that carried more than 170,000 vehicles daily had no discernible economic impact on businesses near the highway.

Did we ever need grade-separated urban highways in the first place?

The economic impact of highway construction is greater than zero

Due to declining revenue, MoDOT says the they must take a “fix it first” attitude to future road projects. Despite that, MoDOT is spending the bulk of their stimulus funding for the St. Louis region on building a new six-lane highway for MO-141 in St. Louis County. Granted, West County suffers from a lack of adequate north-south arterials, but the amount of money MoDOT is spending on new construction for a single project flies in the face of its stated “fix-it first” philosophy.

In support of the MO-141 projects is the St. Louis County Economic Council. Back in 2008, the council said the full build-out of the MO-141 corridor by MoDOT and St. Louis County from I-64 to I-70 is expected to have an economic impact of nearly $20 billion and create more than 170,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.

It is difficult to argue with the economic impacts figures MO-141 projects are expected to generate. The building of a new road in a congested area provides an alternate route of travel for commuters, improving travel times and making an area more attractive to new residents and businesses. The logic seems intuitive.

Given everything above, however, here’s a little though experiment: if highway building produces a significant economic benefit, then how does highway removal not produce a similar economic decline?

Update 3/26 at 3:14 PM: Survey and research reports related to the I-64 project can be found on the official I-64 project website.

Posted by Herbie Markwort

I like to write about transportation.


  1. Any massive building project with that much federal money behind it is going to generate economic benefits. What we don't account for are the economic negatives at play–the cost of maintaining that road, the cost of the increased deaths in that traffic, the amount of pollution breathed by school children. We could be building walkable developments, with mixed used affordable units made by sustainable building standards. We could be maintaining public transit operating costs to keep thousands of bus drivers and train car mechanics on the job, keeping thousands of commuters on time. Somehow the highway lobby, time and again, pulls one over on us. It's not until we actually remove the highways that we realize we can, will, and must, live without them.

  2. Think of a highway not as a capital investment (since there are already enough other roads) but as a marketing expense to draw attention to an area. It even comes with lots of signs and placement on maps! Transit has used similar strategies in the privately run era as well – new line opens with uneconomically high level of service, land gets sold, service cut back to more reasonable levels.

  3. Anyone find a link to the actual report?

  4. Matt, I updated the post with a link to the survey and research reports on the official I-64 project website. Per the KMOX article, the final report is not due until this summer.

  5. HDR refused to include the negative comments by residents and local businesses in their report. So much for accuracy.

  6. Re: AnonymousHDR was employed to look at economic impact. Complaints are not economic impact, they are perception. —–The actual construction process is good for the economy – building roads employs a lot of people, boht directly and indirectly. (Building roads need bulldozers, go it's good to be in the bulldozer supply business… and hence it's also good to be in the bulldozer spare parts business… and also good to work for courier companies that can delievr spare parts in a hurry.)However, whether having the road finished road benefits the economy is anotehr question entirely. As this article implies, sometimes the net benefit is tiny.

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