Steel Home: Musial-Vets bridge's last beam slides into place

News-DemocratJuly 26, 2013 

The final steel beam of the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge was bolted into place at 1:30 p.m. Friday following a whole lot of pictures being taken by bridge workers and the media.

The 30,000-pound floor beam was the final piece of structural steel for the bridge. It filled most of the last gap in the middle of the structure, joining the two halves of the bridge that, before Friday, were suspended from one tower in Illinois and one tower in Missouri.

About 14 ironworkers posed by the beam and signed it before locking it down. Engineers and other staffers from the Illinois and Missouri departments of transportation, as well as contractors and others connected to the bridge also shuffled in front of the beam to take pictures.

The beam was decorated with flags from Illinois, Missouri and the United States, with union, government and contractor banners and with the traditional ironworkers' evergreen that signals "topping out."

The evergreen tradition has roots in various cultures, including when Scandinavians placed an evergreen on the last timber of a structure as an offering. It also is linked to American Indians who believed that no manmade structure should be taller than a tree.

Sometimes the tree signals a job in which no life was lost, but not in this case. One bridge construction worker, 35-year-old Andy Gammon, of Pacific, Mo., died March 28, 2012, when he was working on a lift and fell into the Mississippi River.

The bridge's two 400-foot-tall towers were erected first, then steel panels were lifted into place on alternating sides of each tower, counter-balancing one another and extending to the river banks and middle of the river. Those panels were secured by 600 miles of steel cable, which were threaded through holes in the tops of the towers.

The final connections began Thursday when two 6-foot-by-10-foot steel panels were placed on the upstream and downstream sides of the bridge, making it a single unit for the first time. Friday's placement of the huge floor beam was significant because it is the final piece of structural steel.

On Monday, workers are expected to place concrete panels on the steel; concrete is expected to be poured into the foot-wide gaps Wednesday. The $704 million bridge and highway project is not expected to open to traffic until March because a long list of jobs remain on the approaches and the bridge itself.

The to-do list includes sandblasting the two 400-foot-tall concrete towers and then painting them off-white.

The bridge's name was an Illinois-Missouri compromise, signed into law July 12 by President Barack Obama.

The bridge itself was a compromise, with Illinois and Missouri debating design, price, width and whether to charge tolls. The final solution was for a free four-lane bridge, which can be re-striped into six lanes, and will carry Interstate 70 across the river.

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