St. Louis drivers are creatures of habit. So naturally there was a lot of concern over the closure of Highway I-64. It seems the concern was overstated.
“None of the traffic was as bad as people said it was going to be,” said Rabbi Allen Selis, Solomon Schechter Day School head of school. “Now with the highway reopening it will be even better as the surface roads clear out. The last year and a half has been a cake walk and it’s going to get even better.”
The biggest issues for members trying to get to synagogues and schools in the West County area were Ladue and Clayton Roads which were continually backed up during rush hours.
Congregation B’nai Amoona did make some accommodations in anticipation of that problem.
“We changed our religious school program to Sundays plus one day midweek instead of two days midweek,” B’nai Amoona Executive Director Michael Samis said. “That way our parents only had to make the trek through rush hour one day during the week.”
Samis said the pre-closure buildup was a lot scarier than the reality and they didn’t see a lot of problems. He doesn’t anticipate the new closure will affect the congregation at all.
Bonnie Drazen, Development and Activities Coordinator at H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy said the school gave a grace period for tardies as people learned their way around the construction.
“People found new routes, got into a new groove and left earlier to get to and from school on time,” Drazen said.
The day schools are not anticipating any problems with the eastern closure of the highway. Most of their students live in nearby neighborhoods. Though schools said some teachers might have to take new routes to school and leave for work a little earlier depending on where they live.
Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel (BSKI) which is bordered by the Highway and Brentwood, was initially concerned about problems that might occur with the High Holy Days falling mid-week this year.
“We were pleasantly surprised there were no significant problems,” BSKI Executive Director Harvey Leader said.
There doesn’t seem to be much question that B’nai El Congregation and Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy (RJA) were most affected by the current closure.
RJA Head of School Cheryl Maayan said everyone was terrified before the shut down but it wasn’t so bad.
“Closing the highway was a nuisance, but the real impact came when the Spoede overpass was closed,” she said.
Maayan said some parents had to pick up their students early because it became so difficult to pick up their other children at other locations. Once the Spoede Bridge reopened it was “smooth sailing again.” She said the second phase of the I-64 closure will not be as bad, though it will impact some families coming from the city and parents who work downtown.
The school was excited about the re-opening party on the highway , which was held on the same day as their Hanukkah family party.
“It will be a double celebration,” Maayan said.
B’nai El Congregation Temple Administrator Sue Baseley said their membership has adapted beautifully. As with RJA, the biggest effect was the closing of the Spoede Road overpass.
“They took it with a shrug and figured it out,” Baseley said.
The congregation is also looking forward to the road reopening. The new sound wall decreases the synagogue’s visibility from the highway but they are looking forward to its significant benefits.
“The new sound wall protects us from the highway noise which will increase the spirituality when we hold services outside in our beautiful peace garden,” Baseley said.
The highway closure also created a challenge for the St. Louis Community Eruv, said committee member Stuart Zimbalist. The eruv is celebrating its 14th anniversary this month. Its 20-mile perimeter has expanded over the years to include student housing at Washington University, the St. Louis Hillel and additional neighborhoods. It is examined every week by two inspectors and repaired when necessary.
“When the highway work began a year ago, we had to relocate the south boundary, which used to use the north fence of the highway,” Zimbalist said.
The committee is cautiously optimistic they will be able to go back to using the highway as the south boundary but won’t be able to make a decision until the road reopens and the committee is able to inspect it.
“There are new fences,” Zimbalist said. “Even better, a new sound wall. We are already using the new sound walls between Highway I-170 and Hanley as part of the boundary.”
East side congregations contacted are not expecting any problems with the new closure. For the most part, they said members live north of the highway and tend to live fairly close to the synagogues.
Shaare Zedek Synagogue Executive Director Jeff Miller said the congregation is not planning any changes or anticipating any problems with the Highway and Hanley interchange closures.
John Terranova, Executive Director at Central Reform Congregation said they have no specific plans to alter any programming.
“The new closure will obviously not be as convenient for our mid-county members,” Terranova said. “Luckily there are many possible ways to get to the congregation from the inner belt. As with first closure, we will be paying close attention to any problems or patterns and will address them at that time.”
For up-to-date information on the I-64 construction project, lane closures and commuter alternatives visit: www.thenewi64.org.