The East-West Gateway Council of Governments Board of Directors on Wednesday unanimously approved a plan to remove the eastbound Interstate 70 ramp to the Poplar Street Bridge and make major changes to the bridge that's often jammed with traffic.
The council, which sets long-term transportation priorities for the entire St. Louis metro region, agreed with HDR Engineering Inc.'s recommendations. The council had initially hired the St. Louis-based company to conduct an independent review of interchange options related to the new Mississippi River Bridge project and the Poplar Street Bridge.
The first two phases include a two-lane exit ramp from the Poplar Street Bridge that would take motorists west onto I-70 and the addition of a fifth eastbound lane to the Poplar Street Bridge for a total cost of $80 million. The first two phases would also include a new ramp from the eastbound lanes of the Martin Luther King Bridge to Interstate 64 in Illinois that would provide access to southbound Illinois 3 leading to Sauget and Cahokia.
The final phase, which is unfunded, would create a third lane for the eastbound Missouri lanes of I-64 approaching the Poplar Street Bridge. This phase also would include the reconfiguring of the ramps on and off of I-64 at Sixth Street and Broadway.
All three phases were recommended to ease congestion on the eastbound lanes of the bridge and improve access into Illinois.
Initially, a point of contention was the eastbound I-70 ramp. Illinois government leaders wanted to keep it, but the ramp has since been eliminated.
East-West Gateway Council Assistant Executive Director Jim Wild said the board will meet in January to discuss air quality issues associated with the first two phases. He said the board's move on Wednesday follows a meeting two weeks prior that indicated many of the board's 24 members were optimistic about the recommended upgrades.
"After a special board met on Sept. 14, we were encouraged," Wild said. "We were hoping this would be the outcome. Everybody pretty much stood pat on being committed to improving and beginning to completely solve this ongoing issue."
Board member and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The proposed series of improvements are expected to occur over the next four years as construction is completed on the new Mississippi River Bridge, which is expected to open by 2014.
According to East-West Gateway, an estimated 70,000 Illinois residents commute daily to jobs in Missouri, and an estimated 12,000 Missouri residents commute across the Mississippi River to Illinois each day. In 2010, the ramp from I-70 downtown onto the Poplar Street Bridge handled 19,335 vehicles per day. The ramp onto the bridge from I-55 handled 26,998 vehicles a day in 2010. By 2035, the I-55 ramp is expected to increase to 28,099 vehicles a day.
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.