Hospitals Plan for Highway Project Through St. Louis

Sun January 28, 2007 - Midwest Edition
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ST. LOUIS (AP) Hospitals, fire departments and ambulance agencies are working to prevent transportation delays when stretches of Interstate 64 close for the biggest highway project in state history.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s $535 million plan calls for rebuilding more than 10 mi. of highway, several bridges and 12 interchanges from St. Louis to suburban Frontenac.

At least nine medical centers from St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St. Louis are commonly reached via the interstate, also known as U.S. 40.

Healthcare officials worry that the project, scheduled to begin next spring and end in October 2010, will make for longer ambulance trips to emergency rooms.

Besides backups on the highway itself, officials foresee jams on streets that will become popular alternative routes and problems making it from one side of the highway to the other while interchanges and north-south bridges are rebuilt.

In 2008, the western half of the highway section is to be rebuilt. The following year, the western half reopens and the eastern half will be overhauled.

Delays could lead to ambulance crews giving more hospital-type care en route to hospitals, said state Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, who also is the director of human resources of Gateway Ambulance.

Roorda said ambulance firms will meet soon with transportation officials to discuss how the construction plan affects their ability to transport patients. Hospital officials met with highway engineers recently.

June Fowler, a spokeswoman of BJC HealthCare, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the plan to alternately close two sections of highway to east-west traffic for approximately a year at a time came as a surprise. She said the hospital system would have preferred that some lanes stay open.

But she said the Transportation Department had reduced the overall project timetable and had given hospital officials up to a year to familiarize themselves with the plan.

Fowler also praised the decision to keep some key interchanges open to north-south traffic while they are being rebuilt, including the one at Kingshighway near Barnes-Jewish and Children’s hospitals.

Department of Transportation Spokeswoman Linda Wilson said the state had talked to police, fire and emergency medical providers in the past year about the importance of mutual-aid agreements with neighboring communities to provide backup during construction.

Delays due to construction could put more demand on helicopters to provide emergency transport.

Matt Kasten of ARCH Air Medical Service in St. Louis said the company is prepared for more potential calls. ARCH maintains 11 helicopters and staffs them each with a flight paramedic, flight nurse and pilot.

“The way it impacts us is if agencies have difficulty getting to where they need to be,” he said. But ARCH serves critically ill patients, so helicopters will only be used when warranted, he said.

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