By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
The terrain along Interstate 64, heading into O’Fallon from the east, could someday look quite different.
Vast stretches of fertile farmland could give way to warehousing and logistical operations. People accustomed to heading into town for work may instead find jobs on the outskirts.
A community visited by fortune unlike almost any other in Metro East in the last 20 years could reap the benefits of more to come because of its location.
O’Fallon and St. Clair County are banking heavily on growth in the corridor marked by the empty land around and between two Interstate 64 exits. One is Exit 19, the access for Illinois Route 158, the main way into Scott Air Force Base, Southwestern Illinois’ biggest employer. The other is new Exit 21 at Rieder Road, about two miles to the east, another way into the air base and to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
“We are looking at the next large push being transportation, logistics and manufacturing, particular with Exit 19 and the new Exit 21, which is essentially going to be the new front door to Scott Air Force Base,” Assistant City Administrator Grant Litteken said. “We’ve got 600 acres on the north side of the interstate that we are working feverishly to get infrastructure in, and working with some prospects now to develop that area.”
He added: “It’s a 20-year buildout horizon and we are looking long term.”
It cost more than $36 million for St. Clair County to build the Rieder interchange (mostly state money), which will serve development north and south of the interstate. The project included three miles of widening of Interstate 64 to a six-lane roadway and replacing the existing two-lane Rieder Road Bridge over Interstate 64 with an 80-foot wide bridge that is able to accommodate the projected traffic volumes at the interchange. The interchange also includes lighting and signalized intersections.
Several auxiliary roads have been or will be improved as part of the vision, including Rieder Road, Shiloh Valley Township Road and Wherry Road.
Shiloh Valley Township Road is a frontage road that connects the two interchanges on the north side of the interstate.
St. Clair County has about 125 acres north of the interchange, and another 5,800 acres to the south. Once, the county had dreams of putting the new, multi-billion-dollar National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency project on the south side, but lost out to St. Louis.
Terry Beach, economic development director of St. Clair County, recently talked about some of the county’s plans in one of his periodic email updates.
“We are also excited about pending and future developments at and near the new I-64 Exit 21 at Rieder Road,” he wrote. “The County Board recently approved selling 15 acres (of its 125 acres on the north side) to Bobcat of St. Louis. They will be building a new store (sales, service, parts, etc.) there. And that site is located in a state-certified Enterprise Zone administered locally by us.”
Bobcat is currently on a smaller, 3- to 4-acre site in Fairview Heights “so this was a retention project for us since they were considering an out-of-county option. They approached us,” Beach said.
He noted that the county’s 5,800 acres south of I-64 surrounds Scott AFB on three sides.
“That helps to prevent encroachment, which remains a significant concern for military installations,” he said.
In 2017, O’Fallon officials commissioned a study of the corridor to get a sense of its potential.
The study, by the Urban Land Institute of St. Louis, identified about 3,000 acres of developable area, pretty much evenly split north and south by I-64. One theme of the study was the potential for annexations.
Through prior negotiations, the county and cities of O’Fallon and Mascoutah have agreed that O’Fallon will pursue annexation of the northern 1,500 acres, and Mascoutah will have the rights to pursue annexation of the southern 1,500 acres, the study says.
“Most of the northern acreage is held by private land owners and may be acquired fee simple,” the study’s authors said. “The acreage in the southern portion of the study area is subject to Federal Aviation Administration regulations and is available for development via long-term lease only.”
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
For years, drivers turning into the shopping centers across Illinois Route 159 from St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights played bumper cars as they tried to meander across several lanes of traffic to get to their destination.
Now, the city has reduced the operator error factor from the motorists’ options. Several hundred feet of new, decorative median barrier prevent drivers from shifting lanes quite so easily. The result is being enjoyed by police and businesses alike, who were tired of the number of crashes.
“We’ve rebuilt the western portion of the intersection of Market Place (road) and Illinois Route 159, which is the busiest surface intersection in Illinois south of Interstate 80,” said Paul Ellis, the city’s director of economic development.
The median barrier is a natural extension of a $5 million, multiple-phase streetscape program involving Market Place and Commerce Lane, the two perpendicular common roads serving shopping centers on the east side of Illinois 159, across from the mall. The various destinations include places like Taco Bell and Petco on one side of Market Place and businesses like DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse and Bed Bath & Beyond on the opposite side of Market Place.
The city added curb, gutter and sidewalks as well as median treatments, street trees, plantings, additional lighting, signage and entry wall treatments.
Construction on Phase I made improvements along Market Place from Illinois Route 159 west to the rear of parcels for Petco and DSW.
The second phase will construct a roundabout at the intersection of Market Place and Commerce Lane and is set to begin in 2019. Subsequent phases of this project will complete improvements between the roundabout and the end of Phase I, as well as north and south along Commerce Lane.
The previous problem basically came down to this: Drivers coming off Interstate 64, heading south on Illinois Route 159, would turn right (or west) on Market Place. Almost immediately some of them wanted to turn left, across four lanes of traffic.
“The way the road was configured there was a possibility to make a left turn but it was pretty dangerous. There were multiple crashes — 47 crashes in that corridor in a five-year period,” Ellis said. “That’s incredibly high for that short of a stretch where people can’t go very fast.”
The new barriers take away the possibility of left turns. In addition, at the end of the stretch is now a controlled intersection – a four-way stop — that was not there before. The four-way is located on Market Place between the DSW and Petco stores.
Many of the turning drivers were heading to the Taco Bell restaurant, which has told the city it is glad to see the safety improvements, Ellis said.
“Now, drivers will have to go about another 600 to 700 feet before they can turn, but they can see where they want to go the whole time,” he said.
The city’s Public Works Department addressed the issue with design help from Noel Fehr, of Planning Design Studio in St. Louis. The state Department of Transportation and the public also had input.
The city began the project in the spring and wrapped it up in November.
Ellis was recently in a Missouri suburb where a similar issue exists at another large shopping development.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
The epiphany for Wendell Potter came in 2007 when he saw the reality of health care in America, the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
After spending almost 20 years in health-care public relations and being paid to tout the industry line, he had become disheartened over the state of managed care. Insurance executives were promising the moon to patients but were far more concerned with investors and the effects of potential reforms. Insurance was becoming unaffordable. Millions were going without coverage.
He was aware of the growing crisis but saw it personally when, while visiting his home in Tennessee, he read about an event offering free health care at county fairgrounds in nearby Virginia. He decided to go see for himself the state of the industry.
“What I saw was something I never expected to see in this country,” he said. “People were lined up by the hundreds waiting to get care, some under tents, but a lot of those lines were leading up to barns and animal stalls. It looked like a refugee camp.”
Potter added: “I didn’t know anything like that existed, but I found out there were events like that all over the country.”
Very quickly, Potter went from insurance advocate to insurance reformer. Today, he is the one of the country’s foremost proponents of the Medicare for All movement, the idea of having a single payer — the government — pay for all people’s health care.
Potter spoke recently at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he appeared at the invitation of the Missouri Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program and others.
Potter rose to prominence in 2009 when he testified in Congress during the first Obamacare debate, about the damage caused by the misinformation campaigns he says he helped create while vice president of communications for Cigna.
“I realized I had played some kind of a role in perpetuating the myth of the health-care system,” he said. “I knew as soon as my testimony was over that I would be known by my insurance industry colleagues as Public Enemy No. 1.”
It was quite a change for a man who was raised to believe in the free market.
“One of my first jobs in the industry came during the early Clinton years, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were trying to enact health-care reform. My industry didn’t like it so we teamed up with the drug companies, the big hospital companies and the medical device companies to develop a campaign to make sure it never happened. And, it never happened (until Obamacare).”
He referred to the early effort as a “FUD campaign” — sewing fear, uncertainty and doubt to make sure people were made afraid of any kind of health-care reform.
He said he worked for a system that had an offense and a defense. The offense encouraged people to believe that the U.S. had the best health-care system in the world. The defense was to respond to criticism from patients and doctors when particular cases got too loud.
“More often than not the company would reverse gears and approve whatever was being denied, just to make the story go away,” he said.
Those stories led to the backlash against managed care and led Potter to question what he was doing for a living.
He handled financial communications for Cigna corporate and got to understand how the company made money. Regularly, he fielded calls from the Wall Street Journal and others.
“Press releases and talking points were handed off to lawmakers, who we had contributed to and were friendly to us,” he said.
Simmons Hanly Conroy, one of the nation’s largest mass torts firms, is pleased to announce it has elevated four attorneys to shareholder, effective Jan. 1. The new shareholders are Paul Cook, Ron Herron, Scott Peebles and Robert Woodward.