Kerby Gerling bikes toward the trail head

Kerby Gerling bikes toward the end of a Katy Trail ride in July. Trail users will encounter a makeshift tunnel of containers when construction of the I-70 bridge at Rocheport begins later this fall.

When crews begin replacing a key highway bridge over the Missouri River this fall, their work won’t just tie up traffic on Interstate 70.

Below the bridge, running alongside the Missouri River’s northern bank, is the Katy Trail, a 237-mile biking and pedestrian byway that stretches across the state.

But the work up above to replace the bridge at Rocheport is not expected to completely shut down the Katy Trail.

According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, the contractor is planning to create a makeshift tunnel by placing shipping containers along the crushed limestone path to protect trail users from falling debris.

“We may need to close the trail on temporary basis throughout the project, but we will be coordinating with the Katy Trail staff to avoid any major events that may be planned on the trail,” said MoDOT spokesman Adam Pulley. “If short duration closures are warranted, they are not anticipated to last longer than three or four days.”

Shipping containers, which can come in a variety of lengths, are typically about 8 feet wide and 8½ feet tall.

The steel boxes are used to ship products overseas but have begun being used for other purposes, including storage, homes and sheds.

The Department of Natural Resources, which manages the trail, said it will begin monthly meetings in October to discuss the project’s impact to the trail.

“That said, we are working closely with MoDOT and the project team to minimize impacts to the trail,” DNR spokeswoman Miranda Frederick said. “This is a major project and there will be impacts to the Katy Trail from time to time. These impacts could include short-term closures (30 minutes or less), temporary detours within the trail (right-of-way) and complete trail closures.”

Part of the trail near Rocheport has already been closed in order to replace a bridge over Salt Creek. That has meant trail users have had to take a sometimes frustrating detour onto nearby roads.

Work could begin to replace the Salt Creek bridge soon. Bids for the project were opened Sept. 2.

Up above the trail, on the bluffs above the river, the Interstate 70 bridge west of Columbia will be built in phases to minimize traffic delays on the busy, transcontinental highway.

As part of their bid on the $240 million project, Wisconsin-based Lunda Construction Co. and Washington-based Parsons Transportation Group Inc. said workers will build one span to the north of the old bridge and open it to traffic by the late spring of 2023. Then they will remove the old span and begin building the second bridge.

MoDOT hopes that will result in fewer backups among the 12.5 million vehicles that use the bridge each year.

The current bridge was built in 1960 and is rated in “poor” condition. Replacing it is among the biggest projects in the pipeline in Missouri, alongside improvements to Interstate 270 in north St. Louis County and the replacement of the Buck O’Neil Bridge in Kansas City.

Construction is expected to be completed by late 2024.

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