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.