Among the bad economic news, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) gave St. Louis area motorists some good news — the first half of the I-64/Highway 40 project will wrap up sooner than expected. And that’s despite the wettest year on record and a toppled crane on the site that cost crews some time.
Just how much earlier than the Dec. 31 deadline is not yet known, Dan Galvin, public information manager for Gateway Constructors, a joint venture of contractors rebuilding the highway, said.
“We don’t know exactly when we’ll complete everything but it could be as early as the end of November or as late as mid-December,” Galvin said.
The announcement was welcome news to St. Louis motorists who have had to make major changes in their commutes since a 4.5-mi. (7.2 km) segment of the region’s major east-west corridor was closed on Jan. 2.
But the early finish means an early start on the second half of the project — reconstruction of 4.5 mi. east of I-170 — that will cause motorists to once again readjust their commutes to accommodate the closure.
“It means we get an early start on it (the second half of the project),” Galvin said. “We’ll begin construction on the east half just as soon as we open up the west half. That has to happen simultaneously.”
Linda Wilson, spokesperson for MoDOT, echoed Galvin’s comments. The east half must close when the west half of the $550 million project opens, she said.
“The same day they will simultaneously open the west and close the east and get right to work on the section from 170 to Kingshighway.”
Galvin credited the construction crews, “the people out in the field who are doing the work every day” with the early finish to the first segment of the project.
“They’ve done a tremendous job and produced some really quality work out there and put in a lot of hours and got it done,” he said. “We managed to not only get on schedule but ahead of schedule despite record setting amounts of rain. We factor a certain path into the schedule. You always try to factor in weather.”
Wilson agreed. “They’ve just done an amazing job. I think the real bottom line is they’re able to work such an amazing schedule in terms of taking advantage of every moment they can to get things done and coordinating that work between the structures and pavement and keeping everyone out of each other’s way,” she said.
The complete closure of the highway was another factor that helped push the early finish, Galvin said.
“We were fortunate that we were able to perform the project like this where you have a full closure and you don’t have to worry about moving work zones around and traffic driving past you at 70 miles an hour,” he said. “You can get a lot done in those conditions.”
The biggest crisis on the project came several weeks ago when a wheeled crane toppled over during the demolition of the Clayton-Warson bridge. There were no injuries in the incident.
“It was a major inconvenience — no question but it didn’t really slow us down,” Galvin said.
“I got the word about 5:30 in the morning, and it was picked up about 5 o’clock in the evening. Three cranes were lowering steel girders to the ground, and they were about 6 feet off the ground when one of the clamps in the middle of the beam snapped.
“I still don’t know that they know exactly why that happened but the clamp failed, and there wasn’t enough support for the girder after that and it just slammed into the ground and took the crane with it.”
But the project’s biggest challenge has been “certainly the weather,” Galvin said. “Having to contend with the conditions we had to work in, it really did put us back. If it hadn’t been for the all rain we got we would have been finishing this month [October].”
When the new section is open and work begins on the eastern portion, traffic patterns will change, but it’s hard to predict how closure of the second half of the project will affect traffic, Wilson said.
Motorists driving longer distances — from I-270 to downtown or motorists coming from Illinois — should continue taking the same detour they’ve been taking since the project began and use I-70 or I-44, Wilson said.
While traffic has been heaviest on Clayton and Ladue roads and Olive Boulevard since the project began, traffic on those streets should ease and increase to the east when construction shifts to the second section, she said.
She said she expects Forest Park Parkway to be “really tough” as it takes over some of the traffic from Highway 40. Manchester, Chouteau and Clayton roads also will probably see an increase in traffic, she added.
MoDOT has been working with the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County to get traffic signals on those streets in sync to help traffic roll more smoothly, Wilson said. North/south traffic also will see a big increase when Hanley is closed. “When you close Hanley, you’re going to push more traffic over to Big Bend and possibly McCausland,” she said.
Wilson said officials were pleased that the gridlock some were predicting total closure of the highway would bring did not happen.
Some 170,000 vehicles travel Highway 40 west of I-170 each day while 140,000 travel the road east of I-170. But with a major hospital complex just north of the Highway 40/Kingshighway intersection employing thousands of people, and patients and visitors coming to the hospitals, the closure of the eastern half is expected to cause congestion problems there.
The eastern and western segments of the project are roughly the same length, but crews still face a “lot of challenging work to do at Hanley, Big Bend and Hampton, Wilson said. “Those are pretty complicated interchanges.
“With Hanley we’re going to have all this additional work for Eager. Big Bend has an interesting ramp connection to Bellevue, and Hampton is a pretty unique structure and they’re building a bike/pedestrian tunnel on the park side. They’re building a new little ramp that connects straight over to Oakland on the south side so they’re more complicated designs and more complicated work to do. It will be just as challenging and just as much work on the east half.
The project, the biggest in St. Louis history, has a workforce that sometimes numbers close to 400.
“It varies from day to day based on what’s happening but it’s definitely in the 300 to 400 range,” Wilson said. “With Weber and Millstone-Bangert [the contractors], they do have special crews that might just come in for a few days and then leave depending on what the activity is. But consistently there are around 300.
“I’m just amazed when you’re out on the project in the closed section, you can’t drive the closed section without seeing workers everywhere. Almost every spot along there there’s somebody working doing something. That’s all coordinated by Gateway Constructors, and it’s just amazing.”
Most of the work has been done during the day although crews have worked nights “on occasion,” Wilson said.
“Primarily they have been working 10 to 12 hour days. When they need to, they do work nights and they do work weekends. It just depends on the activity that they’re doing.”
It was no accident that workers took down the Hampton Avenue bridge — in the eastern section of the project — a few weeks ago.
“The intention all along was to close Hampton in September and have it done by Memorial Day so we won’t have Hampton closed during the summer months when the Forest Park (which is near Hampton) is at its peak attendance,” Wilson said.
The real question Highway 40 users are asking is: does the west section’s early finish mean motorists can look forward to an early completion of the entire project?
“We’ll get a two to three-week head start on getting the second half under way,” Galvin said. “The more time we have to work on that, the more likely it is we’ll finish the second half early as well. I would think it’s probably also unlikely we’ll see as wet a spring and summer as we did this year. We certainly hope we wouldn’t see two years in a row like that.
“Our intention is to finish it as quickly as we can to make sure we hit all the deadlines or beat them,” he said. CEG