Starting this month, MoDOT will add additional lanes to Route 364, also known as the Page Extension. The popularity of the route, especially since the completion of Phase III construction in 2014, has exceeded expectations. The completion of the Page Extension was a team effort – and I continue to be proud of the accomplishment. Following is the history of how the thoroughfare came to be.
While the roadway itself is still relatively new, the route is not. The highway follows the old Boonslick Road, first laid out by Daniel Boone over two hundred years ago. When the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission considered building a bridge across the Missouri River in the 1930s, it considered an extension of Page Avenue. Instead, it extended Olive Street Road to cross the river at Weldon Spring on a 1937 bridge. The influx of residents to St. Charles County in the 1960s caused local leaders to start pushing for another bridge.
After Missouri voters approved an increase in the fuel tax to seven cents per gallon in 1972, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission gave “tentative location approval” to a Page Avenue Extension into St. Charles County in 1973. However, the project was dropped from the active planning program of the State Highway Department for, “lack of funds and negative comments resulting from an ‘unprecedented action’ by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments in reviewing the proposed project.” With the rest of the region becoming concerned about growth in St. Charles County, East-West Gateway actually recommended, “The number of lanes and access be reduced to control development.”1
The Missouri River Bridges Committee, originally formed in 1973 to lobby for bridges, was reactivated in 1977 when the County Court passed a resolution calling for the completion of the Page Avenue Bridge before the Brown Road Bridge. Seven years later, it was still unresolved as to whether Page or Brown Road Bridge should be built first. A campaign to construct a Page Avenue Bridge was launched in 1984 by several members of the County’s legislative delegation.2
The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission endorsed the Page Avenue Bridge project in 1986. The following April, the entire St. Charles County delegation supported Proposition “A,” a proposal to increase the motor fuels tax by four cents per gallon, raising over 100 million for state road and bridge projects, 19 million for cities, and 13 million for counties. On the promise that its passage insured funding for the Brown Road and Page Avenue bridges, their constituents voted 78 percent in favor of the measure. The General Assembly again in 1992 proposed raising the fuel tax and promised to complete a “15-year plan.” The proposal, which gave five percent of new revenue to cities and counties, passed with 62.5 percent in St. Charles County.
Unfortunately, a political battle was also shaping up over the Page Avenue Bridge and Extension. The “red route,” approved by the Highway Commission in 1990 for the extension through St. Louis County, went through Creve Coeur Park, requiring the approval of the United States Department of the Interior. Environmentalists and no-growth elements opposed Senator Bond’s efforts to guarantee the route through the park in 1992. The project was nearing approval by federal authorities in 1992, when George Bush was defeated in his attempt at re-election. Opposition by environmentalists increased, as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service asked that the wetland permit be reviewed again at a higher level. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ordered the Park Service in 1993 to prepare a study identifying “additional lands” to serve as mitigation. At a six-hour hearing two months later, bridge proponents outnumbered opponents two to one.
When federal and state agencies approved a mitigation plan in 1995 guaranteeing more than 700 acres would be converted to wetland to offset the taking of 200 acres for the road through Creve Coeur Memorial Park, proponents expected construction to get underway in 1996.3 As a state senator, I argued, “Land use control is something inherently local and should remain in the hands of locally elected officials. St. Charles is and forever will be separated from St. Louis County by the floodplain of the Missouri River. Enough common sense needs to be inserted into the federal statute to allow for necessary roads and bridges connecting these areas that are so intertwined economically. Members of both parties have supported the Page Avenue effort.”
Friction then developed between St. Charles County and certain interests in St. Louis County over the Page Bridge. Federal District Judge George Gunn dismissed a lawsuit in 1997 filed by Maryland Heights and environmentalists, contending the State Highway Department had failed to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson, as acting governor, appointed the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) to issue floodplain permits for state projects when Maryland Heights refused to issue permits for the project. Opponents got sufficient signatures to put the ordinance granting easements through Creve Coeur Park on the ballot in St. Louis County.4
St. Louis County voters approved the referendum in 1998 authorizing the conveyance of easements for the Page Avenue Bridge through Creve Coeur Park, with a 61 percent majority. The following year, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) awarded contracts and construction began on the Page Avenue Bridge and extension.5
Completion of the Page Avenue Bridge and the first leg of the Page Avenue Extension was the most significant accomplishment of the new millennium in St. Charles County. After years of controversy, MoDOT dedicated and opened the Page Avenue Bridge, now named the Veterans Memorial Bridge, in December 2003. The tied arch-design Missouri River crossing provided relief to I-70, which was handling traffic in excess of 200,000 trips per day. With five lanes of traffic in each direction, the new bridge carried a separate dedicated bike path which, when completed in 2004, linked Creve Coeur Lake Park with the Katy Trail.
The County loaned MoDOT $800,000 in 2001 for the design work on the Page Avenue extension from Jungermann Road to Central School Road. With new overpasses at Heritage and Jung Station Road, Highway 94-South was widened to eight lanes, with two-lane, one-way service roads on each side. East-West Gateway approved $30 million in funding for Phase II of Page to a location west of Harvester Road, and construction began in 2007. In addition, Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond secured funding to extend the project to Woodstream Drive.
The average commute time for St. Charles County residents had dropped to 24.7 minutes by 2009. However, MoDOT announced that by 2009 all funds would be used for maintenance and paying off bonds and no money would be available for funding the last legs of the extension. Rather than throw in the towel, the County continued to push the projects. MoDOT, the County and St. Peters agreed to a cost sharing arrangement to get Amendment Three funds to extend Page Avenue Extension to Central School Road. When federal funds became available in 2009, they were dedicated to this project and Amendment Three funds were used to fund the next section out to just beyond Mid Rivers Mall Drive.6
Residents were happy to see Phase II of the Page Avenue Extension open in August 2009. The completion of Phase II opened Route 364 from Harvester Road to Mid Rivers Mall Drive. The $101 million project was paid for with Federal, State and St. Charles County and St. Peters funds. The extension alleviated traffic, offered a quick trip to I-270 in St. Louis County, and provided residents with an alternate route during the Blanchette Bridge closure.
I worked with Ed Hassinger, former Chief Engineer for MoDOT; Grace Nichols, Past Chair of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission; Don Boehmer, former Assistant Director of Administration - Intergovernmental Affairs for St. Charles County; and John Greifzu, former Transportation Director for St. Charles County and current Assistant Director of Administration, to bring Phases II and III of the Page Extension to fruition. The County and its municipalities teamed together to fund $57 million for Phase III, with MoDOT funding $61.2 million. St. Charles County’s ½ cent Transportation Sales Tax, reauthorized by a 77 percent vote in Aug. 2012, provides $29,150,000 for Phase III. O’Fallon contributed $2.25 million to help with additional right-of-way costs, and Dardenne Prairie added $600,000 for improvements at Hanley Road. The County and its municipalities partnered with MoDOT to secure the federal grant funds necessary to complete the project.
In February 2013, the Phase III design-build project was awarded to Page Constructors, a joint venture with Millstone Weber and Kolb Grading, with Parsons Transportation serving as the lead designer. On May 22, 2013, officials broke ground. The $118.2 million design-build roadway project includes construction of a four-lane divided highway from Mid Rivers Mall Drive to I-64 in St. Charles County. The new Gutermuth Road Bridge over the Page Extension opened in Cottleville on August 2013. The Bryan Road Bridge opened in November 2013, the section between Route K and I-64 opened in early October 2014, and the final section opened the weekend of October 31, 2014. When completed, Phase III was expected to handle 50,000 cars per day and reduce travel from Mid Rivers Mall Drive to I-64 to just seven minutes. In a year, the number of cars per day quickly grew to 100,000. Additionally, now more than 70 percent of the jobs available in the St. Louis region are within a 45-minute commute from St. Charles County.
2 Banner-News, October 27, 1977; Journal, January 14, 1979; Banner-News, May 10, 1978.
3 Journal, December 27, 1995.
5 The delays on the Page Avenue Bridge were repeated on smaller transportation projects. Senator Gross passed an amendment in 2001 requiring DNR to certify “without conditions” Section 404 nationwide permits, as long as they are approved by MoDOT. Gross stated, “With a delay of six months to a year, the cost of these projects goes through the roof.” Journal, June 13, 2001.
6 Census Bureau’s 2009 Community Survey.