The St. Clair County Board has thrown its weight behind naming the new Mississippi Bridge in honor of military veterans.
Board members voted unanimously in favor of naming the span the "Veterans Bridge" during a meeting Monday. One of the competing proposals intends to name the bridge after recently deceased St. Louis Cardinal Stan Musial. The Missouri and Illinois legislatures must both approve the name of the new bridge.
Board member Frank Heiligenstein (D-Freeburg) said he and fellow board member Larry Stammer (D-Belleville) originally proposed "Veterans Memorial Bridge" but changed it upon the suggestion of Chairman Mark Kern to reflect the sacrifices of living and dead veterans.
Heiligenstein said it was appropriate to name the bridge after all veterans "as opposed to one person because there are a lot of great individual people out there."
The four-lane bridge will carry Interstate 70 across the river and is scheduled to open in 2014. The Illinois portion of the bridge lies in St. Clair County -- home to thousands of veterans and Scott Air Force Base near Mascoutah.
Hall of Famer Musial died Jan. 19 at the age of 92. Missouri state senators introduced legislation three days later to name the bridge after the baseball player. Illinois State Sen. William Sam McCann (R-Jacksonsville) proposed a similar bill on Jan. 30 that would name the bridge the "Stan Musial Memorial Bridge."
The Veterans Bridge proposal is the third attempt to honor veterans with the bridge's namesake.
Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) put forward a bill on Thursday to name the bridge the "Wounded Warriors Bridge." A proposal to name the bridge "Veterans Memorial Bridge" in 2010 received support from multiple metro-east state legislators, but ultimately died in committee.
Should the new bridge be named in honor of veterans, it would mark the return of a span in the St. Louis region honoring military members. The currently named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge was originally christened the Veterans Memorial Bridge when constructed in 1951.
Funding for the $667 million project stems from federal and state pocketbooks. Illinois funded about half the construction costs with $313 million. The federal government contributed $239 million and Missouri contributed $115 million.
Illinois contributed more funding to the project because most of the construction work to connect the bridge with existing roadways was within the state.
Other proposals to name the bridge have fallen flat, such as proposals in both state legislatures in 2011 to name the bridge the "Jerry F. Costello-William "Bill" Clay Sr. Veterans Memorial Bridge." The 58-character proposed banner died at the committee level as well.
The fight over the bridge's namesake even stretches years before its construction began. In 2005, the Missouri legislature proposed naming the bridge the "Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Bridge" after the president. Reagan died on June 5, 2004.
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.