Prop P tax increase to benefit Arch, parks and trails passes -

Prop P tax increase to benefit Arch, parks and trails passes

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By Sarah Heath By Sarah Heath

ST. LOUIS  -- Voters in St. Louis city and county on Tuesday approved a sales tax increase that will provide nearly $800 million for improvements to the Gateway Arch grounds, park upgrades and development of more hiking and biking trails.

Proposition P passed by about a 2-to-1 margin in the city. The vote was closer in the county, where it won with 53 percent of the vote.

The proposition raises sales tax by 3/16th of a cent, or roughly 2 cents for every $10 purchase. Officials say it will generate $780 million over the 20-year life of the tax.

Forty percent of the revenue goes to park improvements. Thirty percent goes to the Great Rivers Greenway parks district to expand hiking and biking trails. The rest is for renovation of the Arch grounds.

Opponents had said the Arch already gets millions in federal funding and doesn’t need more money from local taxpayers. They questioned why all taxpayers should fund new biking and hiking trails that not everyone will use. And they question whether so much money is needed for park maintenance.

The St. Louis County Republican Committee opposed Proposition P. St. Charles County leaders declined to put the measure on their ballot.

The Arch was completed in the mid-1960s, and the expansive grounds around it have remained essentially unchanged since then. St. Louis leaders have for years been concerned about how Interstate 70 separates the Arch grounds from most of the rest of downtown.

The project known as CityArchRiver has secured $36 million in state and federal transportation funds for a “lid” that will cover a downtown block and allow for pedestrian movement from the heart of downtown to the Arch. Federal money will also fund elevation of Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, raising the road that runs between the Arch and the Mississippi River out of the flood plain.

CityArchRiver also is seeking to raise $100 million in donations by the end of the year, but leaders say the tax money is needed, too. Plans call for developing connected gardens and pathways on the grounds, creating walkways under the Eads Bridge into the Laclede’s Landing entertainment district, and upgrading the Arch museum and interior.

Great Rivers Greenway would use its share of the tax money to finish 90 miles of off-street trails over a 10-year period. The trails are planned with or without the tax, but would take twice as long if the tax hike is not approved.

Great Rivers Greenway has built 114 miles of trails. It gets about $10 million a year in public money, the

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