No deaths on St. Louis' MLK Bridge since barrier installed

Sunday, January 23, 2011 | 3:47 p.m. CST; updated 3:54 p.m. CST, Sunday, January 23, 2011

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — No fatal crashes or head-on collisions have been reported on a Mississippi River bridge linking Illinois to St. Louis in the more than a year since a centerline barrier was installed, according to a report published today.

The once-narrow Martin Luther King Bridge was the site of more than a dozen fatal crashes, including some in which drivers crossed the centerline and struck oncoming vehicles. The bridge links East St. Louis, Ill., and St. Louis.

But since a concrete divider was added in late 2009 and lanes were widened, accidents have been significantly reduced. The bridge has three lanes now instead of four; one lane for vehicles headed west and two lanes for vehicles going east.

The Belleville News-Democrat reported Sunday that no head-on crashes or fatalities were reported in the 13 months since the barrier was installed. It based its report on records from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Many motorists in the area have appreciated the bridge's safety improvements, which were made after a 2009 task force looked at safety on the bridge. The newspaper reported that since 1998, 14 people had died on the bridge because of traffic accidents.

Authorities have also amped up efforts to prevent speeding and drunken driving, which are two major factors in collisions.

Bob Hardy, who owns an auto parts store, drives across the bridge almost daily. He said he has driven with much greater confidence since the barrier was installed. Before, he worried about oncoming motorists losing control of their vehicles and crossing the centerline.

"I think I feel more secure that they're going to stay on their side of the road driving at 45 or 50 mph," Hardy said.

But not all drivers are happy. Some report delays because of the reduced lanes, something IDOT officials said they'll look into.

The newspaper reported that the project cost more than $2.3 million.

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