Obama Administration Spending Millions to ‘Better Connect’ People With an Urban Park

By Susan Jones | December 27, 2011 | 9:12 AM EST

Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration is giving $20 million in taxpayer money to the State of Missouri for improvements to I-70 that will "better connect" people in St. Louis with the parkland around the base of the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Sen. Claire McCaskill -- a Democrat who faces a tough re-election battle in 2012 -- made the announcement in St. Louis last week.

The $20-million federal grant is funded through the TIGER III program. (TIGER stands for "Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.")

"Competitive federal grants bring federal assistance to Missouri in an honest and fiscally responsible manner," McCaskill says on her Web site.

The senator likes federal grants – even hosting a recent workshop in St. Louis explaining how to obtain them. But she opposes earmarks and recently co-sponsored a bill that would permanently ban those pork-barrel projects from the legislative process.

The money going to St. Louis will help build a pedestrian land bridge over I-70 connecting the Old Courthouse, Luther Ely Smith Square and the Gateway Arch grounds. The project will "improve vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns while facilitating safer access for people in and out of cars," the news release said.

The I-70/Gateway Arch improvements fall under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, which aims to reconnect Americans to the outdoors.

“When President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to provide more Americans with more opportunities to get outside and enjoy our nation’s heritage, this is exactly the kind of project he had in mind,” Salazar said in St. Louis last week. “We are putting Americans back to work and growing the local economy while providing better access for everyone to the history, culture and natural beauty of downtown St. Louis.”

Transportation Secretary LaHood said the improvements to the I-70 corridor will not only make travel safer and more efficient for pedestrians and drivers alike, they also will have a positive economic effect on the entire St. Louis area.”

The $20 million TIGER grant comes with a local match of $25 million from the Missouri Department of Transportation and $10 million privately from the CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, which agreed to provide $1 for every $2 provided by DOT.

The Gateway Arch (formal name: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial) attracts 2.4 million visitors each year, adding $92 million to the local economy annually and supporting 1,200 local jobs, the Interior Department said.

The Gateway Arch/I-70 project is one of 46 transportation projects in 33 states and Puerto Rico that will receive a total of $511 million from the third round of DOT's TIGER program.

The Obama administration says the grants will allow communities to move forward with critical, job-creating infrastructure projects including road and bridge improvements; transit upgrades; freight, port and rail expansions; and new options for bicyclists and pedestrians.

In addition to the TIGER program, President Obama is pressing Congress to pass a $60 billion infrastructure program -- part of his larger job-creation proposal.

The Democrat-led Senate rejected the infrastructure bill last month.