ST. LOUIS — Motorists and truckers trying to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis are on the verge of having a long-anticipated, $700 million option.
A new four-lane, cable-stayed Interstate 70 bridge named after St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial opens Sunday to traffic, concluding a project that took years — and a few squabbles between Missouri and neighboring Illinois — to complete.
The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, or the "Stan Span," is meant to relieve I-70 traffic on the chronically crammed 50-year-old Poplar Street Bridge, one of just two bridges in the nation that accommodates three freeways.
Locals will get their first sampling of the bridge Saturday, when thousands are registered to take part in a 6-kilometer fun run that includes the span as part of the course. A four-hour period that afternoon will be open for walkers and bikers on the bridge, where a ribbon-cutting and ceremonial crossing by military representatives and classic-car enthusiasts is planned.
For years, questions lingered about whether the span would ever materialize. Before even a clump of dirt was turned over in early 2010, Missouri and Illinois spent years squabbling over how to pay for the span. Missouri insisted it be a tollway, a notion flatly rejected by Illinois as potentially onerous for tens of thousands of its residents who commute daily to St. Louis and the Missouri-side suburbs.
Illinois later proposed a sister bridge to an existing span, calling it affordable at $450 million. Missouri said this wasn't a long-term solution.
Both states ended the impasse in early 2008, announcing a compromise after Missouri relented on the tolls.
But testiness over the bridge's name followed.
Missouri lawmakers and key members of Congress from both states wanted the bridge to bear the name of Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer who died in January of last year. But the Illinois House voted 109-0 on a resolution in the spring to call it the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
President Barack Obama later signed compromise legislation, naming the bridge in honor of both veterans and Musial, who served in World War II.
The federal government has appropriated $239 million for the project. Illinois paid $313 million and Missouri $115 million. Illinois paid more because most of the work to connect the new bridge to existing interstate infrastructure was in its borders.