by Michael R. Allen
In a St. Clair County Journal article discussing the possibility of tolls being imposed on the proposed Mississippi River Bridge, mayors and alderpersons of several different Illinois cities were quoted, and all favor the new bridge. The mayor of Granite City, Ed Hagnauer, thinks that the new bridge will bring Missourians into Illinois.
One city rarely mentioned in discussions of the new bridge, and without an elected leader quoted in the article, is East St. Louis. Perhaps this neglect is due to the fact that new bridge has no real physical connection with East St. Louis, and will instead divert I-70 from even passing through the old city. The new bridge’s backers tout the economic growth it will bring to Illinois, but overlook or dismiss the inequity such growth will bring. Cities farther east, liked Edwardsville and Collinsville will benefit greatly from a quick route connecting their new strip malls and office parks to the moneyed residents of St. Charles County. This economic flow will miss older cities close to the river, like East St. Louis and even Granite City — cities that face depopulation, widespread poverty and a lack of economic growth. The bridge will allow the haves to gorge on growth while ensuring that have-nots continue to remain economically malnourished. It will carry people over the old cities and their minority populations, just as the highways built in the late twentieth century did for larger cities.
Proponents of the bridge dodge the issue. The bridge will spread the sprawl eastward, and balance out the effect of the far-west suburban growth in St. Charles and Warren counties. But it will be creating a distribution pattern resembling a donut, fueling new growth on the edges of the east side’s developed area instead of helping redensify the inner core of east side cities.
East St. Louis is left out, again. Why not? Dealing with its problems is too difficult and requires careful, long-term action. Preventing exurban growth requires strong will on the part of politicians, who would have to tell their big-bucks backers “no.” Building a bridge gives everyone a relatively quick dose of what they want: faster profits on new east side development, a short-term decrease in commute time between far suburbs in Illinois and Missouri and a fancy new structure to experience from a car.