Work to complete the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge will create a commuting headache for metro-east motorists starting Friday.
As the work speeds toward an expected January completion date for the bridge, one more major roadblock stands in the way: Eastbound Interstate 64 will be closed for more than a week from the I-55/70 interchange with I-64 to 18th Street in East St. Louis to allow the reconfigured intersection of the interstates to be repaved.
"It's going to be closed Friday at 9 p.m. and then stay closed for nine days," Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Church said. "We know it's going to have a lot of impact for people who live in Illinois and work in downtown St. Louis. But it can't be avoided."
Church said it would be too dangerous for workers -- plus it would drag out the work -- if IDOT tried to do the resurfacing while the highway interchange was partially open. The good news, he said, is when the work is done it will be smooth sailing on the existing interstates from now until the new bridge is done.
While the work is under way, IDOT leaders have set up a posted detour that will take motorists on Interstate 255 back to Interstate 64.
"It's only about five miles added to your detour and it's on the interstate, so it should only add a few minutes for drivers," Church said. "The big impact is expected to be the congestion approaching the detour, especially at evening rush hour."
The westbound I-64 lanes will not be affected.
Church said St. Louis commuters might also want to consider riding Metrolink while the interstate exchange is closed.
"After we do the nine-day closure, when they'll do all the resurfacing, (the interchange) will be in its final state," Church said.
All that will be left is connecting Interstate 70 to the new bridge, which is rapidly nearing completion.
"A pretty good ballpark is that the bridge is 70 to 80 percent done," Church said. "The resurfacing work is one of many projects that we're working on in preparation for the opening. Thanks to really good weather the last couple of months, work is happening at a really steady pace."
While the bridge span itself was connected a couple of months ago, much of the work to get traffic to the span is what's being done now.
"All the other work is progressing nicely," Church said. "The paving from tri-level area is moving very well. We're working on shoulders and tie-ins. The other two main projects are the flyover bridges in tri-level area. They're almost done. The eastbound contract, the one that takes you to I-64 is essentially done except for the painting and a couple of concrete pours. Also have landscaping, lighting and signing to do. But you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Church said he still expects the bridge to be opened sometime in January.
"That will be dictated by progress on the main span project," Church said. "Right now they're working on the (center) barrier for the main span. Once they get started with the overlay, we feel like we'll have a more firm date. We think in early October we'll be able to pick out a firm date."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2626.