At the St. Charles County Council meeting on Nov. 12, the Missouri Department of Highways and Transportation [MoDOT] announced a repair project to rehabilitate one of the heaviest-traveled bridges in both St. Charles County and St. Louis County. Andy Tureck, area engineer for St. Charles County, announced a major rebuilding project for both the eastbound and westbound spans of the Blanchette Bridge. The repairs would begin in spring 2020 and last until autumn 2021.
The Blanchette Memorial Bridge is made up of twin cantilever bridges that carry I-70 across the Missouri River between St. Louis County and St. Charles County. The westbound portion was opened in 1959 with the eastbound portion following in 1978.
According to MoDOT, the bridge carries about 150,000 vehicles daily, more than any other St. Louis area bridge that spans the Missouri River.
The project will result in lane closures, with eastbound I-70 traffic restricted from five to four lanes during the initial construction phase. Two of those lanes will cross over to existing westbound lanes. Westbound I-70 traffic will be restricted from five to three lanes. Those lane closures will be in force until the late fall 2020. Additional lanes will be closed at night to allow for faster completion of the project.
Lane closures on eastbound I-70 will continue through most of 2021, with completion of the project estimated in November 2021.
The project will also occasionally close the Katy Trail for short periods of time to allow crews to cross the trail and move equipment to and from the job site. Some repairs will also need to be completed next to or directly above the trail.
At the Nov. 12 meeting, Tureck admitted this may seem like déjà vu for council members and motorists who recall the rebuilding of the bridge in 2012, when a major rehabilitation project was undertaken for the westbound portion. During that time, the eastbound bridge carried both the eastbound and westbound traffic. The last repairs to the eastbound bridge were joint replacements completed in 2006.
Tureck added the current project could not have been completed in 2012 and is instead a part of the regular maintenance cycle of the highway and bridges. A variety of repairs will be made to the eastbound portion, including replacing the expansion joints, the steel structure, sealing the bridge deck and a full repainting. While complete closure of the eastbound structure will not be required, both the westbound and eastbound directions of the bridge will be impacted to complete these repairs.
Tureck also mentioned that the project would not conflict with the major rebuilding venture on I-270 between Lindbergh Boulevard and Hwy. 367 in North County.
Contracts for the project will be awarded in January 2020, and the work will begin in March, unless there are significant weather delays.
According to MoDOT, the westbound bridge impacts will be completed by November 2020. Work on the eastbound bridge will take place from March 2020-November 2020 and resume again in spring 2021 until December 2021.
Many council members had questions for Tureck following the announcement.
Tureck told Council Chairman John White that there would be multiple bidders for the project, and told Council member Joe Cronin [District 1] that MoDOT signage would be placed at key points alerting motorists to the delays and providing direction to new access points. Tureck also informed the council that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has warned the state that a major channel on the river must always be kept open, but that no difficulties concerning river traffic were expected.
During the repair period, motorists are encouraged to use Route 370 and Route 364 as the main alternative routes. Drivers can also use Route 364 to Arena Parkway. The closest alternate to Fifth Street and I-70 is just one mile away at Route 94.
MoDOT also recommended that motorists try to adjust travel hours to avoid the peak traffic delays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the eastbound direction and 2:30 until 6 p.m. in the westbound direction. Drivers of commercial vehicles will be strongly encouraged to use I-70 to Route 370 to I-270 to cross through the St. Louis region.
For more information on the project, visit modot.org/i-70-blanchette-bridge-project.