Governors announce plans for new Mississippi River bridge

Thursday, February 28, 2008 | 3:44 p.m. CST; updated 11:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS — Missouri and Illinois ended years of bickering Thursday over how to pay for a new Mississippi River bridge and at what cost, announcing a deal for a new four-lane, $640 million span meant to ease congestion at one of the nation's busiest crossings.

About the bridge

Governors of Illinois and Missouri signed a deal Thursday that calls for building a new Mississippi River bridge at St. Louis. Here are some of the details: PURPOSE: To divert Interstate 70 traffic from the aging Poplar Street Bridge, which also handles traffic for interstates 64 and 44. FEATURES: Two lanes in each direction, with the possibility of adding one lane each way, if needed. COST: About $640 million. Illinois would pay about $313 million and Missouri about $88 million, with the federal government pitching in $239 million. NO TOLLS: The bridge will be toll free. TIMELINE: Design work is to begin immediately. Construction could begin as early as 2010 and is expected to take four to six years. FEEDBACK: A public meeting will be held this spring to update the public about the details.

The bridge, scheduled to be open by about 2015, would have two lanes in each direction as the fifth span between St. Louis to its Illinois suburbs, siphoning 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.

The governors of both states, during a news conference Thursday preceding their signing of the deal, said the bridge will benefit their residents. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the bridge is "the right thing to do" to ease the burden on commuters. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said the new span will "help tie these two states together."

"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 proof is in the pudding, not the process."

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 stagnated the effort that consistently got downsized as traffic across the river here continued to mushroom.

Just a few years ago, the new bridge was drawn up to be eight lanes and cost $1.6 billion as what officials said would become a "signature bridge" and possible tourist draw near St. Louis' towering Gateway Arch. That would-be span even had a proposed name — the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Bridge.

The price tag for a new eight-lane span eventually was scaled back to $910 million but still went nowhere as both states haggled about how to pay for it. The project later was downsized to $410 million to $450 million — what officials said it would cost to add a "coupler" bridge of four westbound lanes parallel to the existing Martin Luther King Bridge, which would be renovated to only carry three eastbound lanes.

Both of those projects would have rerouted I-70 from the congested Poplar Street span — used by more than 120,000 vehicles daily — and carry the traffic north of downtown St. Louis.

While car traffic has grown, capacity across the river has dwindled from 22 lanes in the 1960s to about 16 now. By 2020, the St. Louis Chamber and Growth Association has predicted that rush-hour travel time in the area could double to three hours from 90 minutes now.

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.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.