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The Eads Bridge as envisioned by the SOM, Hargreaves, BIG team, one of five finalists in the Arch ground design competition. // The City + The Arch + The River.

The Eads Bridge closed on December 15, 1991 to facilitate construction of stations for the soon to be MetroLink light rail line. Unfortunately, construction uncovered severe corrosion on many of the trestles supporting the road deck resulting in the road deck’s permanent closure. The road deck remained closed until July 4, 2003 during which time the bridge underwent $35 million in renovations. Today, the road deck carries 4 lanes of traffic with a 5-ft sidewalk on the south side of the bridge.

Back in 1998, however, city officials were eagerly anticipating the start of work to resurface the road deck. Original plans had 4 lanes of traffic and a 5-ft sidewalk on the bridge’s north side! Other civic groups such as Trailnet and Metropolis, however, campaigned for more space on the Eads Bridge for pedestrians and bicyclists wishing to take advantage of the historic structure’s potential to attract tourists. Ultimately, the city’s “pragmatic” opinion won out with only the obvious change to the sidewalk made.

Framing a Modern Masterpiece

Over the next few years, the confluence of two major projects will force St. Louis to reconsider the priorities it set on the Eads Bridge over 10 years ago. Just to the north of downtown, the New Mississippi River Bridge will open in 2014 and reduce the already low traffic demand on the Eads Bridge.

Also in progress is Framing a Modern Masterpiece: The City + The Arch + The River, a design competition to renew the Arch grounds. The Eads Bridge plays an integral element in each of the design proposals recently released by the competition’s five finalists. Of particular note, 4 out of the five design teams propose reducing the number of traffic lanes on the Eads Bridge from 4 to 2 and rededicating the remaining space to pedestrians and bicyclists. By and large, the design teams do not believe the traffic demand on the Eads Bridge requires 4 lanes to support it. The table below summarizes what each team proposes to do and on which page of their respective design narratives their ideas can be found.

Changes to the Eads Bridge proposed by finalists of the Arch grounds design competition
Team Traffic lanes Description Page
Behnisch 0 or 2 Pedestrian bridge in summer, pedestrian promenade on south side in winter 64
MVVA 3 or 4 Expand existing sidewalks from 5-ft to 8-ft wide 177
PWP 2 Pedestrian path on south side, bike path on north side 16
SOM 2 Pedestrian and bike promenade on south side 210
Weiss/Manfried 2 Pedestrian and bike promenade on south side 56

The Eads Bridge does not need 4 lanes to support the traffic volume that exists today or is forecasted in the future. The existing 5-ft sidewalk is, also, insufficient for the desires of pedestrians and bicyclists from St. Louis and elsewhere. The Eads Bridge is a tourist attraction capable of attracting people all by itself. It also provides one of the best vantage points to view the modern masterpiece that is the Arch. St. Louis officials should take advantage of the confluence of design competition and bridge building to return a portion of the Eads Bridge to the people for their enjoyment.