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Archive for January, 2012

This post contains portions of a letter sent to all Bridgeton city residents by former Lambert-St. Louis International Airport Director Donald W. Bennett in 1989.

Airport expansion will not destroy Bridgeton!

In the weeks since the airport planning group announced they had narrowed the study for Lambert expansion to 4 alternatives,  misinformation and rumors have been rampant. In retrospect, we should have said nothing until a final plan was developed.

First, please do not jump to conclusions. The final recommendation for airport expansion will be made in mid-October. Given the preliminary work I’ve seen, I am confident that many of the fears and concerns being expressed will be found to be unwarranted. Bridgeton will be totally destroyed are simply not correct.

Second, this letter is a general mailing to the residents of Bridgeton to address fears of airport expansion. We deeply regret that there will be some displacements. I can assure you, though, that the number one priority in reviewing the four options in the minimum disruption of community life. Specifically which properties will be needed for airport expansion will not be known until a final recommendation is made.

Third, those who need to move will be dealt with fairly and sensitively. Since property purchases began several years ago, we have successfully purchased over 1500 homes through separate negotiations iwth individual property owners. In addition to a fair purchase price, there are a host of other services provided to make the move for homeowners, renters, and affected businesses as easy as possible.

If we do nothing and let the center of air travel move to other states where airports are expanding, Lambert will slowly be strangled. That means we will ultimately lose jobs when that happens. The total negative impact on the entire community will be far worse than having to buy a number of homes for Lambert expansion.

Expansion of the airport is a painful decision that will, unfortunately, affect some people. We all understand this human factor and are pledged to work diligently to minimize the impact on those who must be affected. But  to do nothing, or try to move (the whole airport) elsewhere, would be unfair to the people of our region today and destructive to our children’s future.

In 1989, I was a young kid. Now, in the year 2012, my former classmates and neighbors who stayed in St. Louis are paying on the increasing debt load for a barely-utilized path of concrete that opened 5 and a half years ago. According to Bennett, the plan that was supposed to save our generation’s economic future was the very thing that has given us a $1.4 billion debt burden and left us with a runway that would have better luck hosting local drag races than commercial jets. Mr. Bennett was correct in saying that Bridgeton would not be completely destroyed. However, eliminating half of the city of Bridgeton and the entire community of Carrollton during an exasperating 20 year period is not exactly what most people today would consider “diligently minimizing impact.”

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A reasonable question and one I hope to answer in this post. I will be posting a timeline of events in the life and death of Carrollton, complete with data, by mid-February.

At the time of expansion, Lambert was in a growing metropolitan area. I use the term ‘was’ because, for over the last 20 years, the growth in St. Louis County has been stagnant and is now declining.  Population decline is sadly projected to only worsen in the St. Louis County area before it gets better. St. Louis City has reached a low point and the trend back to the City is slowly gaining some upward momentum, but not nearly enough to consider it a boon. However, the population decline is only a fraction concerning what went wrong with Lambert’s expansion. 20 years ago, at the time the county was experiencing a population peak, the airport was facing its peak capacity. Airports across the nation was expanding, and our aging airport was losing its ‘world class’ status. To the owners of Lambert, the City of St. Louis, the desire to expand and modernize was palatable. The problem was, the only reason St. Louis hosted such a large volume of air passengers was due to the fact that a struggling and now defunct TWA operated a hub at Lambert.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 8-7-03
Author: Ken Leiser
Griggs will ask FAA to help out Lambert
Coalition is aiming for as much as $100 mil to finish Expansion

Before taking airport commissoners on a bus tour of the massive earthmovers clearing the way for a new runway, Lambt Field Director Leonard L. Griggs Jr. told them that the deepest hole of all for expansion may not be the new Lindberg Blvd. tunnel. It could be a lack of money. Facing a steep drop in passenger fees when AA axes half of its schedule this fall, Griggs and other Lambert officials will travel to Washington on Friday to seek up to $100 mil from the FAA to finish runway expansion. Griggs warned the commissioners on Wed that American’s Nov 1 schedule cuts- combined with the recession and the post- 911 travel mailaise- could cost the city up to $164 million in passenger-facility charges from mid-2002 to mid 2007.

In 2003, Lambert was watching as AA, who already dropped St. Louis from being their hub, was making deeper cuts to its already cut back flight schedules. Yet they pressed on to continue the doomed and expensive project despite there being zero need for it. In 2003, the giant earth-movers tasked with preparing the land for the expansion project had barely started to shave the surface. Carrollton Oaks by then was largely gone. Carrollton Oaks Elementary was already flattened. Yet much of Carrollton west of Carrollton Oaks was largely still in existence, with residents. Almost all of Carrollton west was still in existence. Carrollton Elementary shut in 2002, but was still standing. Had the project halted, millions of dollars could have been saved. Carrollton may have had a chance to come back to existence.

Aviation Now.Com

Aviation Week & Space Technology

9-15-03

Airline Outlook: Lambert’s Losses

Edited by David Bond

AA’s plans to reduce capacity at STL Lambert Field is likely to have a long-term negative impact on job development in the STL metro area, according to a study by Jan K Brueckner, economics professor at the University of Il. At Urbana-Campaign. The ‘dehubbing’ of Lambert, taking effect in November, will cut mainline jet flights to 53 a day from 213. Daily flights by regional aircraft will drop to 154 from 199. Brueckner estimates the reduction will cause the loss of 2K jobs at the airport alone. The reduction of air service quality, in both passenger and freight sectors, will have a longer term impact on the business climate.

So, were there any signs before 2003 that the project would be a failure?

St. Louis Sun Tues 1-2-90

Author: Larry Eichel

Living in Hub City Presents Options and Drawbacks: TWA’s ‘Monopoly’ Criticized.

John C Danforth, a member of the US senate who is the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the airline industry. “The problem is concentration at individual airports causing lack of competition,” Danforth said. “When you’re up to 82% as we are (with TWA) in St. Louis, how much worse can it get? I’d say that’s intolerable.

St. Louis City was placating a runway expansion for a single airline, and one that was obviously operating in the red. Before a single house was bought for expansion, a flailing TWA bought and led by corporate raider Carl Icahn, a man known to drastically trim down companies to increase stock values and profits before moving on to other companies. Carl Icahn’s presence in TWA meant that the one airline that Lambert depended on for survival was economically unstable at best.

There were other issues at hand. In the late 80s-early 90s, many airports were playing the expansion game. St. Louis City simply didn’t want to be left out, and felt that as a hub, despite TWA’s documented financial instability, they could play too. Although some cities faced the same eminent domain fights as St. Louis did with their expansion projects forced on local residents, other cities actually worked together with their metro areas to develop plans that benefit a whole region. For example, Denver at the same time Lambert was considering expansion, decided that it too has maxed out on space within its confined borders. Therefore, Denver relocated its entire airport from its boundaries within the metro area to an area outside the city. This has allowed for the airport to expand at will, and given Denver a modernized world-class airport. In case studies of airport functionality, Denver is the example of how to do it right. St. Louis is the example of how to do it completely wrong at every step.

From Daniel R. Rust: Lambert-St. Louis International Airport’s Alternative W-1W: A Case Study  at Business and Economic History Online,

The controversy and cost of W-1W provide an example of what happens when a major metro area retains its 1920s-era airport location as its only major commercial airport. Communities, schools, churches, factories, and businesses sprang up around the airport, preventing its expansion. Enlarging Lambert’s footprint required great financial and human costs because the airport lacked open land for development.

What happened with St. Louis? Why couldn’t we just rebuild and relocate our airport too? First, we have to look at historical implications. We have never gotten over the infighting between the city versus the county, a split that is unique only to our metro area. St. Louis City has owned Lambert since 1927 when the county was nothing more than cornfields. You have to remember that, at this time, St. Louis City had firmed up its borders and wanted nothing to do with the County, beyond ownership of the small airport within the County’s borders. As decades went by and the population spread to areas past the airport, the issue of the airport’s location was indeed a concern for Lambert operators and for county residents. The idea to relocate the airport to another area, such as to an incorporated area of St. Louis County with room to expand, or to Franklin County, St. Charles County, or even Illinois was brought up many times in the decades before the official 1989 expansion plans. However, any relocation of Lambert would simply mean that St. Louis City would lose control and possibly ownership over its coveted asset. Therefore, the City of St. Louis outright refused any plan to relocate. Throughout the 60s-80s when population growth potential in the St. Louis area was uncertain, the infighting between the smaller government entities displayed concern for only their own airport interests, rather than working towards a better solution for air travel in the entire region. Mid America Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois was developed during the aviation expansion era on the notion that it could relieve Lambert from some of its traffic. Mid America has never attracted a single major carrier.

Even before the runway expansion plans were approved by the FAA and construction plans began, Lambert was arguably adequate for a small city such as St. Louis. The airport was not yet at capacity, and only projected being beyond capacity for the year 2010 onward. The FAA approved the questionable airport usage projections, which stated that about 20 million people a year would use Lambert. Future airport usage projections made by those who have interests in inflating numbers, or simply making projections based on data concerning a single unstable airline, proved to be devastatingly erroneous. The invalidity of those projections should have been noted and corrected in 1996, the year that began a rapid and steady decline of air traffic through St. Louis which has not since improved. In 2010, 12,331,426 passengers went through Lambert, a number that has dropped by 3 million when just over 15 million passengers went through Lambert Field in 2006. Lambert is currently operating at half of the capacity as it did in 1995, at its height of traffic and when construction of the new runway slowly began. Again, in 1995, they were nowhere near capacity but instead were relying on faulty projections to justify the construction of their new runway.

Therefore, its not a question of whether or not Bridgeton, and thus Carrollton, was geographically vulnerable to the airport. The question the City of Bridgeton, the City of St. Ann, the City of Hazelwood, the City of Kinloch, the City of Cool Valley, the City of Berkeley, the defunct City of Bridgeton Terrace, the City of St. Charles (who experiences incredible noise issues relating to the flight path of the new runway), all of the affected residents including Carrollton and Carrollton Oaks, business owners along Natural Bridge Road, Lindbergh Boulevard, Cypress Road, and Fee Fee Road, everyone in the City of St. Louis who is stuck with the burden of Lambert’s $1.4 billion debt, and I all want to know is, why did Lambert expand knowing TWA was in dire trouble, and why did they choose the most expensive and most intrusive expansion plans to do it with? Why was the City of St. Louis allowed to make such irresponsible decisions regarding the expansion of its municipal airport without any repercussions beyond the current debt load now owned by city residents, who had zero say in the matter?  Nearly all of Carrollton and perhaps half of Carrollton Oaks remained when AA (TWA’s new owners) decided that it no longer wanted a hub in St. Louis. At that time, the City of Bridgeton still had a chance to rebuild and grow if construction would have halted, saving taxpayers millions. The City of St. Louis, despite the inability to afford or make sense for the expansion beyond its public outrcy of, “If we build it, they (some faceless airline) will come (and make a hub here)”, pressed on with the plans anyway. No airline since TWA expressed any interest whatsoever in making St. Louis their hub before a single drop of concrete was poured. Without a hub, the runway was still built. Again, why was this allowed? Although Carrollton Oaks was mostly gone, almost three quarters of Carrollton remained after the tragic day of September 11, 2001. After those events, airline commerce plummeted and never fully recovered. So why did Lambert choose to press on even after those events? Why does Lambert and the City of St. Louis want to reinvent itself as an Asian import hub after it became blatantly obvious that no Asian carriers want anything to do with using St. Louis, despite sending multiple delegations to China and Hong Kong begging for contracts? Why was the City of St. Louis, together with land developers, lobbying for $360 million Missouri tax dollars to build infrastructure when no Asian shipping companies have any interest to do business with our city? (Most St. Louisans are relieved that the Missouri legislation said no). Why can the City of St. Louis not understand its own limitations and work accordingly within them? Concerning a scope beyond the Lambert issue, when will the City of St. Louis leaders learn from these major mistakes and work effectively with regional economic planners and educated business analysts who act as beacons for responsible growth?  Even larger question, when will we as a whole region finally begin to understand that the political and economic divides that exist between St. Louis City and County, including every municipality within St. Louis County, and also includes the surrounding counties, are hurting the entire region and has ultimately led to our decline?

There are two purposes of this blog:

1) To show the tragic state that Lambert put Carrollton into for 20 years (1989-2009), leaving residents to live next to vacant and dilapidated houses for years while they waited for their buyout agreement, creating unsafe conditions such as transients, gangs, and drug users into the area. This blog is to document the emotional tragedies of the victims of eminent domain during this particular 20 year expansion project. For many residents, 20 years of waiting and wondering with the inability to sell their existing property while watching their beloved neighborhood slowly dissolve into chaos is nothing short of slow torture. This should be considered criminal in a modern society.

STLPD 12;16;03

Author: Shane Graber

Many Lambert buyouts will be delayed

The airport is buying 1937 residential and 70 business parcels for the $1.1 billion runway expansion. As of Dec. 1, 1491 offers have been extended and the airport has received 1458 acceptances, the airport spokesman said in an email. That leaves 446 property owners waiting for an offer. In November, the Bridgeton city council asked Lambert Field to finish the job it started in 1995. Officials passed a resolution charging that Lambert had used inconsistent buyout procedures, resulting in vacant houses next to occupied homes throughout the Carrollron subdivisions.

2) To ask the questions of why expansion happened when analysts at the time projected that the whole project was incredibly risky, turning out to be a tragic and costly failure that could have been avoided.
If the expansion project had been necessary to push Lambert into a thriving, job-producing, economy-enriching machine for the St. Louis area, the questions raised in this blog would not need to be asked. If Lambert acted swiftly during the buyout and displayed acts of dignity to the residents and their homes, the photos of abandoned, graffitied, slowly disintegrating homes and structures would have never needed to have been taken.

So to answer the question, ‘Does Bridgeton’s sheer proximity make it vulnerable to expansion?’ we have to look at the question of regional population and the question of airport usage growth. Was it possible that St. Louis had already experienced its peak in population? Were the projections of sustained air travel through St. Louis inflated? If St. Louis indeed experienced a massive population (well beyond the population numbers of the 1980s) AND that air travel projections could be sustainable (if we were a hub for a financially stable air carrier and/or carried a larger portfolio of air carriers into Lambert’s terminal rather than at an 82% usage from a single carrier) the answer might have been yes, Bridgeton was indeed vulnerable to loss. With greater population numbers and a strong aviation hub, Bridgeton’s vulnerability in theory could have been calculated at an improbable 25% or less risk when many other expansion options (explained below) are considered. However, the fact that St. Louis has experienced its population peak in the 1980s and air travel projections concerned only one airline in 1995, the answer to the question surrounding Bridgeton’s perceived vulnerability at the genesis of the actual expansion should have been a resounding no. Air traffic coming into St. Louis was clearly not sustainable. We could not even retain our hub status, and yet Lambert officials and the City of St. Louis felt the need to build a new runway anyway, and did so in the strangest of ways.

Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not Bridgeton was vulnerable to Lambert’s takeover is to consider the various options Lambert could choose from for expansion. Of all the expansion options prior to 1989, nobody would have expected a runway to be built so far west from the main terminal, and at such an odd angle from the other runways. Before the 4 expansion plans of 1989, Lambert was vocally pushing for a southern expansion through Woodson Terrace, St. Ann, Edmundson, and Berkeley. This option would either create a tunnel for or alter completely Highway 70. Of the 4 official expansion plans presented in 1989, only one- the W-1W plan, encroached into Bridgeton. Air traffic controllers and pilots at the time argued that this was the worst option possible. They felt this runway approach had the least benefits and in fact would not be as safe to use in inclement weather as the original runways. The controllers and the pilots preferred a proposal that called for a new runway to be built north and parallel of the current runway system. This would call for some land to be taken from McDonnell-Douglass (now Boeing). Another point: Lambert at the time was buying land in Berkeley and Kinloch. Cool Valley residents desperately wanted to be bought out as the eastern approach was making jet noise unbearable. In theory, Lambert could have just as easily expanded eastward, and would have the added bonus of existing closer to a terminal (Terminal 2) and would not have to stretch as far east as it currently does west. Instead of sensible expansion, Lambert choose to go after Bridgeton. Given the many other possibilities for expansion; a northern plan, an eastern plan, a southern plan, another plan which called for rebuilding all the runways while adding an additional runway within the  airport boundaries, or to create an entirely new airport outside of the metro area with plenty leverage for future expansion, the westward expansion into Bridgeton seemed egregious at best.

To understand the viewpoint of the City of Bridgeton and its residents, I present an article written in 1989 by Mayor Conrad Bowers concerning how Bridgeton found out that expansion into the area was a possibility.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial: September 1989

Author Conrad Bowers

No Friendly Skies over Bridgeton

The facts are: No environmental impact studies have been done, noise contour maps are unavilable, and actual site plans for runway development have yet to be developed. The apparent lack of information demonstrates that nobody can predict that only a few hundred homes will be affected. The initial Bridgeton reaction to the plans was one of outrage. The confusion created in our city and the immediate impact on real estate vaues are most unfortunate. Uncertianity has been created by an irresponsible announcement based on concepts for which there are no definite plans. Residents will be faced for years with the question, “Will they or will they not take my property?”

For reasons unknown to us, Bridgeton officials were not informed of the meeting on Aug, 25. We found out about it from a Post-Dispatch reporter who called us at 2PM and asked if we knew about it. We responded by sending a staff member to the remainder of the meeting. The failure to notify those most directly affected needs to be emphasized because it shows the complete insensitivity of the St. Louis Airport Commission toward its immediate neighbors.

Several years ago we were told that there would be no additional expansion to the west. This year we approved plans to move Lambert’s facilities for car rental companies to the area that used to be Bridgeton Terrace. Suddenly, all of this is obsolete. If the dynamics of changes in air transportation are so rapid as to make the so called long-term plans obsolete in a matter of months, then the notion of expanding Lambert in the midst of an already- fully developed part of St. Louis County seems in and of itself an error. We need to take an approach to expansion that addresses the future- one that does not necessarily address the needs of just one major airline.  The first step is that the STL Airport Commission has proportional regional representation. Lambert Field is a municipal facility, serving the whole metro area including communities in IL. It is obvious that we need regional cooperation and regional input into any regional airport. For, if nothing else, it symbolizes the spirit of St. Louis.

Here’s a article written in 2007 to sum it up the aftermath: St. Louis Airports too Quiet- USA Today

From the article:

John Krekeler, one of 16 Lambert airport commissioners, estimates that only 5% of flights at Lambert use the new runway. “The runway is a white elephant and is not needed now,” Krekeler says. “A ridiculous amount of money was spent for a 9,000-foot patch of concrete. It’s asinine that it cost $1.1 billion, while it cost $315 million at MidAmerica for a passenger terminal and a runway.” Critics say TWA’s problems were known to local aviation officials before they moved ahead with the new airport and runway. They blame the Federal Aviation Administration for rosy traffic predictions and charge that the agency and local politicians squandered taxpayers’ money to pay for the projects.

April 15 UPDATE: I’m still working on generating a concise timeline. I have thousands of pages of documentation so I thank you for your patience with me. A greater in-depth look at the events that led to the expansion will be examined in a finished book form.

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I was able to make a quick pass through Carrollton during a return trip to the St. Louis area. Just as I expected, what is left of Carrollton has been quietly decaying. The streets, whether blocked off or open to the public, are becoming rough, cracked, and succumbing to mother nature and father time.

Not much action is happening with Lambert International Airport and the City of St. Louis officials. Not long ago, city officials and developers like Paul McKee set their eyes on an attempt to persuade the state legislation to build the infrastructure on a $360 million Asian Cargo Hub. To hear them speak of it, it sounded like a glorious job creation machine with the potential for long-term growth. With the cargo hold, St. Louis would again become an important airline hub, and a major commodities transport center. We would once again be the 8th largest city in the nation, as we were during the beginning of barge and steamboat transport. We would again be in the top 5 busiest airports in the nation.

The problem was, it was our dreams alone. Our cities dreams were not in the minds of those we needed to make this happen. Asian shipping companies already have steady and lucrative contracts with cities such as Dallas, Chicago, and Denver. Overseas shipping continues to be the most cost-effective method to transport goods across the globe as fuel costs continue a steady upward climb. Only St. Louis is interested in making St. Louis the center of transportation once again.

We were excited when we learned that one flight would begin a contracted once-a-week, twice during the holiday season cargo schedule. This was the ‘proof’ that a cargo hub in St. Louis was in demand, and we had the capacity to provide the space, runway, and infrastructure. Two flights came in, and then the cancellations. We went through the holiday season without another cargo delivery, and in return no Missouri goods left for Asia as promised. The one contract our legislators and lobbyists provided with us as proof of the necessity of the project had embarrassingly fallen flat in a time that was supposedly in demand.

We have reached a time in which St. Louis needs to face who we are. We are a small city that continues to get smaller. We should preserve and protect those resources that we do have, not make large gambles on the bigger dreams. St. Louis may never again be the 8th largest city in the United States and its time we accept this fact. Therefore, we should embrace the quaintness of asking one another, “So what high school did you go to?” No, if a major cargo hub would materialize and our town would somehow exponentially grow again, it will not change our local identity. We will still eat toasted ravioli and hate the Cubs. Right now, we need to embrace another aspect of our identity, the skeptical side of being Missourians. We are the Show-Me-State because we believe results only when they are in front of our eyes. We cannot afford to let people tell us, “If we build it, they will come.” Lambert’s own Field of Dreams has resulted in 2,000 buildings destroyed for nothing beyond a massive $1 billion plus debt in which the great-grandchildren of the City of St. Louis will be paying for. The fact that the City of St. Louis owns acres of decaying streets in what should be prime land in the heart of St. Louis County stands as a reminder that we must be cautious, skeptical Missourians when our elected officials want to gamble with our land and economy.

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