First lanes of new Boone Bridge open amid talk of MoDOT shortages
Amid the celebration surrounding the newly opened eastbound span of the Daniel Boone Bridge on June 25, state and local officials were grim about the prospect of future road improvements without more money.
Ed Hassinger, chief engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), said there are 55 major river bridge crossings on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers that need replacement. But MoDOT officials say funding is questionable.
“The confusing thing is – really – that people see these projects opening but these were funded years ago,” said Bob Schnell, a MoDOT assistant district engineer in St. Louis. “If you look (at) what’s in the pipeline, we have about two years of work in the St. Louis region, then you will dramatically see all the big projects come to a halt,” he said. “And then it’s just resurfacing.”
The only major bridge project in the St. Louis area that is funded is a replacement of the Hwy. 47 bridge across the Missouri River at Washington, Schnell said.
Meanwhile, officials gathered at the ribbon-cutting lauded the $111 million Boone Bridge project, which began in 2013 and will eventually lead to the replacement and demolition of the old westbound span. That span opened in 1937 and is deteriorating.
With eastbound traffic successfully shifted to the new bridge, MoDOT project manager Jim Germaud said rehabilitation work could begin on the circa 1980s span. Construction of a new half-mile of interstate pavement on each side of the bridge will continue for about six months.
Following rehabilitation, three lanes of westbound traffic on the old span will be shifted to the rehabbed four-lane bridge, followed by removal of the old span in 2016. No major work, other than fixing potholes and necessary maintenance, is anticipated to be done on the old span before its removal.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that everything stays good with it,” Germaud said.
In early 2016, the dismantling of the old bridge will begin, with grading and cleanup expected to be finished by late spring or early summer.
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann acknowledged the teamwork that helped to move the bridge project forward 12 years ago. At that time, MoDOT agreed to allow three westbound lanes on the old bridge with the promise that local officials would begin working on a new bridge.
St. Charles County lent the state $2 million for planning for the bridge – a key step in getting later funding for the bridge, Ehlmann said. The state later reimbursed the county.
Ehlmann added that the June 25 ribbon-cutting was his fifth for a new bridge linking St. Charles and St. Louis counties in his 27 years in elective office.
“That more than anything else has helped tie our community, our county with the rest of the region and totally integrate us in that economy,” Ehlmann said. He said heavy traffic used to occur in the mornings going into St. Louis County and at night heading toward St. Charles County. “Now in the morning and evening you see people moving in both directions.”
The youngest observer at the ribbon-cutting didn’t have an opinion to share. Nine-month-old Tyler Tuerck watched serenely as he was held in his father’s arms while speeches were made and the ribbon was cut.
“I was an inspector on the bridge and this was a chance to bring him out,” Tyler’s father, Andy, said.
Together, father and son watched history in the making, even as gathered officials wondered what is yet to come.