Stan Musial Veterans Memorial may bridge name divide, but who gets final say?

News-DemocratJune 25, 2013 

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 395-2 to name the new Mississippi River bridge the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The House resolution naming the Interstate 70 span aims to end the impasse between Illinois and Missouri over what to call the $704 million bridge and highway project, which is set to open to traffic by early next year.

Missouri lawmakers want to name it after the late Musial, a World War II veteran and revered Cardinals baseball legend. In January he passed away age 92 after endearing himself to legions of fans for his decency, sportsmanship and clean living.

Illlinois lawmakers, led by state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsvillle, want to name it the Veterans Memorial Bridge at the urging of state veterans groups.

Hoffman declined to comment on the U.S. House vote until after he gets feedback on it from veterans groups who had led a petition drive to name the new bridge after veterans.

"Either way, we need to talk to our counterparts in Missouri so that we could get to an agreement," Hoffman said.

The resolution naming the bridge now heads over to the U.S. Senate, where it is also expected to win easy passage.

But who gets the final say in naming the bridge?

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, has said that in a situation where the federal government gives money to build a bridge linking two states, the federal government gets the final say.

Hoffman, however, disagreed. Hoffman said the pact between Illinois, Missouri and the Federal Highway Administration that divided up roles in the bridge's construction and financing left the issue up to the two neighboring states to decide.

"I think knowing that, we'll have to come to some type of agreement or compromise," he said. "With all the problems facing the nation and the state, the last thing we need is a constitutional crisis over who has the authority to name a bridge."

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis cheered the overwhelming vote in favor of the resolution to name the bridge after Musial and veterans. Davis was the measure's lead sponsor.

Davis called Musial "an ambassador for the game of baseball, a veteran and a kind, upstanding person."

But the legislation also recognizes the nearly 1.3 million veterans who live in Illinois and Missouri, he said.

"Naming the bridge that links these two great states is another way we can honor both the brave men and women who have served this country and 'Stan the Man'," Davis said in a statement.

During debate on the U.S. House floor Tuesday afternoon over the proposed name for the bridge, U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, applauded both Musial and America's military veterans, as well as the compromise solution that could affix the names of both to the $670 million span.

Enyart praised Musial's reputation as a gentleman and a hard worker, saying he "epitomized what it meant to be a resident of the greater St. Louis community."

Enyart said he hopes that every traveler that crosses the new bridge "will not only read the name of that bridge, but will remember the values we honor with that name. Hard work, integrity, humility, service and sacrifice."

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533.

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