The Current | March 5, 2001

Airport expansion eats away at St. Louis region

by Josh Renaud

A few days ago I received an email with sad news. It was from one of my former employers, the owner of Tornatore's Ristorante in Bridgeton.

The Bridgeton restaurant closed its doors last week after more than a decade. I'm sure many longtime customers saw it coming, but it's a big loss for the community.

It was sad for me because I spent three years working there. During my time at Tornatore's, I grew up a lot and learned a lot of people skills. I also learned how to be patient, how to manage my time, how to work under pressure. I made a lot of friends, including the owners.

I left the restaurant to pursue newspapers. I continued my association with the restaurant by developing and maintaining the Tornatore's website.

This year, I had begun the next phase in my relationship with the place. I was becoming a patron, taking friends and coworkers for a nice night out every once in a while. Tornatore's had a wonderful atmosphere for business folks or couples interested in a romantic evening. The food was delicious, the service excellent. There was no better place in North County.

But now the Tornatores are focusing on their St. Peters location. I'll probably go out there every so often, but that restaurant is far away from where I live, where I work, where I go to school, and where I go to church.

It seems to me that many of the places I frequent are going the way of Tornatore's, mostly because of airport expansion. If Bridgeton's lawsuits are unsuccessful, the city will be a lifeless shell in just a few years.

That's frustrating, because the Bridgeton area is such an important part of North County. I don't understand how regional leaders—our own University's beloved administration included—can't see the enormous detrimental impact W-1W is going to have on North County and St. Louis.

Most small businesses, churches, supermarkets, and residents will move away—probably out west—from the affected areas. That's bad for St. Louis. UMSL isn't going anywhere, but the airplane noise is going to get worse. I'm still waiting for the glass-o-rama Performing Arts Center to be finished so we can hear just how acoustically insulated it is. Productions put on at the Chancellor's crown jewel may be accompanied by a cacophony of screaming jet planes.

To me, the regional airport problem seems a lot like the nation's energy problem. There's a growing demand for usage, and the easy solution is to increase the current source. The problem is, that source is a cancer slowly destroying and absorbing the communities around it. We need to be looking into "alternative sources." Within a few years MidAmerica and Scott Air Force Base in Illinois will be connected to MetroLink. Is it really necessary to expand Lambert in the midst of a sprawling metropolis when there are two perfectly good airports nearby that have tons of room to expand?

It may not be too late for some regional leaders to rethink their position. TWA's future is cloudy and the need for W-1W is now questionable. The question is, who will take that first bold step and speak out in favor of a plan that will truly benefit the region?