ST. LOUIS — Missouri and Illinois politicians, along with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, ceremoniously broke ground Monday on the new Mississippi River bridge. The bridge is important in alleviating some of St. Louis' traffic congestion and is the first built in some four decades.
Monday's event largely was anticlimactic: Construction on the main span of the $670 million project went underway weeks ago; the ceremony was initially planned for February, but Washington dignitaries were snowed in and unable to make it to St. Louis.
A look at the new four-lane, cable-stayed Mississippi River bridge planned between Missouri and Illinois at St. Louis.
COST: $670 million, with the main span costing $229.5 million.
LENGTH: Main span 1,500 feet, making it the nation's third-longest cable-stayed bridge.
HEIGHT: 400 feet, or two-thirds the height of St. Louis' Gateway Arch.
MATERIAL: The cable-stayed portion of the bridge will require 8 million tons of reinforcing steel — equivalent to the weight of 363 school buses. The main span requires 14.8 million pounds of girders, roughly the weight of 925 elephants.
TIME FRAME: Bridge is expected to be completed by 2014.
Given another chance, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood heralded the new span as vital in easing snarls at one of the nation's busiest crossings — and proof that two neighboring states could make it happen, despite years of bickering over financing.
"It takes a long time to get big things done," LaHood said during the ceremony at the state line on the Eads Bridge, where a dump truck from each state flanked Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from nearby Belleville, Ill., widely considered the project's catalyst.
LaHood said he hoped the event illustrates "that when people put down their agendas and put aside their egos and do what the people want, great things can happen."
Scheduled for completion in the middle part of this decade, the four-lane, cable-stayed bridge will divert I-70 traffic from an existing bridge. The plan also allows for the bridge, designed to be two lanes in each direction, to be expanded by a lane each way.
A mix of state money and $239 million in U.S. taxpayer money fund the project, which is meant to relieve the 47-year-old Poplar Street Bridge.
Chronic haggling between Illinois and Missouri over financing consistently downsized and stalled the project until both states struck a deal in early 2008.
In the original plan, the bridge was eight lanes, cost $1.6 billion and was named the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Bridge. Ideally, it would become a "signature bridge" and a possible tourist draw near St. Louis' Gateway Arch.
That price tag was later reduced to $910 million but Missouri's insistence that it be a tollway snagged the project — something Illinois flatly rejected as potentially onerous on the tens of thousands of Illinois residents who commute daily to work in St. Louis and its Missouri suburbs.
Illinois later proposed a sister bridge to an existing span between the states, making it much more affordable at an estimated price of $450 million. That structure would carry four lanes of traffic — all westbound — after crews turned all lanes on the existing bridge to eastbound ones.
However, Missouri did not think that it was a long-term solution.
Both states ended the impasse in February 2008, announcing a $640 million compromise after Missouri relented on the tolls. The cost has since grown to $670 million because bids came in higher than expected.
The new bridge is expected to carry about 40,000 vehicles a day initially, up to 55,000 vehicles daily by 2030.