One of the biggest challenges on the job was the construction of the 1,500-ft. (457.2 m) span which is supported by towers 400 ft. (122 m) off of the water.
There’s been talk about building a new bridge across the Mississippi River to link Missouri to Illinois for more than a quarter century. But it was only in recent years that the project picked up steam. Now, it seems the wait may well have been worth it. The $695 million project has been completed early and under budget.
“It’s very unusual for a large contract to come in like that,” said Randy Hitt, project director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. “It feels great.”
The main span of the bridge, which in itself cost $229 million and is officially dubbed the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, stretches 1,500 ft. (457.2 m) across the Mississippi, making it the third longest cable stayed bridge in the United States.
The design concept of cable stayed bridges has been around since the 16th century, and has recently regained popularity in part because they are both architecturally interesting, and easier and less expensive to build. The John J. Audubon in Louisiana is the longest in the United States, and the Arthur Ravenel in South Carolina is the second longest.
The bridge project moved I-70 interstate traffic from the current Poplar Street Bridge, which also carries traffic from two other interstates, to the new span, alleviating traffic congestion on the old bridge. The project also involved the realignment and reconstruction of I-70 and numerous local roads on both sides of the state lines.
The funding for the project, which came in $14 million under budget, was provided by both states involved and the federal government. Illinois put up the largest amount of money at $313 million, Missouri kicked in $115 million and the federal government put up $239 million. Illinois’ share was bigger, according to the project Web site, because the bulk of the work to connect the existing interstate infrastructure to the bridge occurred in that state.
Work had been ongoing on the bridge project for about four years, Hitt said.
During that time, 75 to 100 tradespeople worked on the main span of the bridge daily. While there is no figure on how many jobs were created for the entire project, the impact from the ripple effect to suppliers and other support services was substantial, he said.
“One aspect that was particularly unique was we looked at having a very diverse workforce,” Hitt said. “We made a concerted effort in economically depressed areas to make sure we had representation from all groups. We are finishing the whole corridor with 23 percent participation by minorities as far as workforce. That’s carpenters, laborers, iron workers … which far exceeds the federal goal of 14.7 percent.”
One of the biggest challenges on the job was the construction of the 1,500-ft. span which is supported by towers 400 ft. (122 m) off of the water.
“A lot of people don’t realize how volatile the Mississippi River is,” Hitt said. We went from an all-time water low to a 15-year-high, a 44-foot change in two months’ time. A lot of the work was performed off barges and so, just the logistics… could be challenging. There are certain places you can access during high water that you can’t in low water. When the water is too high, you have to shut down because the current gets to be too swift. In low water you have to worry about access. Our largest river mounted crane had a 400-foot boom with 800 foot jib. It was very hazardous work and there was very serious safety protocol put in place for contractors.”
With the bridge complete, the city expects to see a tremendous increase in traffic flow, Hitt said. “With that comes more safety and we’re very confident it will create many opportunities for economic development on both sides of the river.”
The bridge was named for St. Louis Cardinal baseball great Stan Musial, also known as “Stan the Man.” He was a Navy veteran of WWII, and later played 22 seasons as an outfielder and first baseman for the Cardinals.
“Not only was he a legendary baseball player, he was always involved in a lot of civic activities for the region, for charities and other things,” Hitt said.
The U.S. Congress passed legislation to name the bridge after Musial. It was signed by President Obama.
The new bridge opened to traffic on Feb. 9 — one day after a public fest celebrating its completion.
“On Feb. 8 we [opened] it to the public so anyone can get out there and walk or ride their bike across the bridge,” Hitt said. “There is no pedestrian bridge, so this the one and only opportunity to walk or ride across the bridge. There will be a small parade with numerous veterans groups and the Budweiser Clydesdales. Stan always rode the Budweiser hitch into the stadium.”
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