ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri and Illinois ended years of bickering Feb. 28 over how to pay for a new Mississippi River bridge and at what cost, announcing a deal for a four-lane, $640 million span meant to ease congestion at one of the nation’s busiest crossings.
The bridge, scheduled to be open by about 2015, would have two lanes in each direction as the fifth span between St. Louis and its Illinois suburbs. That would siphon off Interstate 70 traffic from the 45-year-old Poplar Street Bridge that’s prone to bottlenecking.
The bridge would be toll free — a concession by Missouri, which in recent years had insisted that motorists pay for using the span. Illinois had labeled any call for tolls a deal-breaker, casting it as a burden on the tens of thousands of Illinoisans who commute each day to work in St. Louis and its Missouri suburbs.
The plan also allows for the bridge to be expanded by a lane each way, if needed.
Missouri would pick up about $88 million of the tab and cover any cost overruns. Illinois would contribute $313 million, given that the brunt of work on interstate connectors would have to be done on that side of the river, near East St. Louis, Ill. The federal government is to pitch in $239 million.
“I think this was a fair deal,” said Jay Hoffman, a Democratic Illinois state representative who chairs that state’s House Transportation and Motor Vehicles Committee. “I didn’t know that this day would ever happen, but we all came together.”
The announcement was a colossal breakthrough for both states, which for more than a decade had agreed that a new bridge was needed. But differences about the scope of the project and how to pay for it stalled the effort that consistently got downsized as traffic across the river continued to mushroom.
Officials said the design work on the new bridge would begin immediately, with construction beginning as early as 2010 and lasting four to six years.
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