By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - About 80 people attended Monday night's South County Connector meeting at the Southwest Baptist Church in south St. Louis. At one point they were asked 'How many of you oppose the connector plan vehemently?' Most of the hands in the room went up.
St. Louis Alderman Scott Ogilvie was among the critics.
"The mayor and the county executive are very big on cooperation right now, which I think is positive and good. I think this is a particular project where were it deserves additional scrutiny," he said.
The South County Connector is receiving plenty of scrutiny. Anyone who drives from Clayton or Richmond Heights to south St. Louis city or county during rush hour knows it's rarely easy. But is the South County Connector the answer?
First of all, the name South County Connector is a little misleading because it does affect parts of south city near River Des Peres Park. The plan has its critics who want to know how it will affect traffic, pollution and noise. Will it ruin parks and businesses in its path? Will it stop MetroLink expansion from going farther south?
Monday afternoon's rush hour on southbound Hanley Road was slow and bumper to bumper.
It's one example of why John Hicks, with the St Louis County Department of Highways and Traffic, believes the South County Connector is needed.
"To improve access from south county and south St. Louis to the central part of St. Louis County. Clayton, Richmond Heights, Brentwood areas etc.," said Hicks, a transportation development analyst.
At an estimated cost of $110 million, St. Louis County is proposing a four-lane, divided roadway connecting mid county to south county. The cities affected the most are Shrewsbury and Maplewood.
The Maplewood City Council last month officially came out against the proposal. Part of the reason: the newly renovated Deer Creek Shopping Center.
Maplewood sent a letter to St. Louis County alleging that the South County Connector plan would displace as many as 36 businesses in the Deer Creek Shopping Center and Big Bend Industrial Court.
Hicks says the Department of Highways and Traffic is trying to avoid impacting businesses but admits the strip mall could be affected by the connector.
"It would go through part of the parking lot of Deer Creek Plaza and that parking would have to be replaced," he said.
Barry Greenberg from the Maplewood City Council says the city spent millions renovating the mall and the connector is a threat.
"After 12 years of that shopping center being vacant, we now have it completely filled," said Greenberg. "South County Connector would cause the major tenants to leave."
One thing everyone can agree on: the South County Connector is controversial.
"Yes, it is controversial," said Hicks, "but all highway construction projects, even MetroLink and other projects are controversial."
The connector plan being talked about right now is not final. Hicks said it could be five, six, or seven years before any construction begins. Public comments are accepted until July 19.
To learn more about the South County Connector plan visit their website.