What you need to know to visit new Mississippi bridge

News-DemocratFebruary 5, 2014 

Although area residents have watched the new Interstate 70 Mississippi River Bridge grow from the river over the past four years, Saturday will be the first time that they can see the bridge up close.

The span, officially named the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, will open with a full slate of festivities to coincide with its dedication.

What's going on Saturday:

* 8 a.m. - The first event on the new bridge is a 6K run followed by a bicycle race. Details on the cost, where to meet and registration information is available at bigriverrunning.com/bridgerun.

* 10 a.m. - Time trials begin for the bicycle race.

* Noon - The bridge opens to the general public. People on foot or on bicycle can tour the new span. Roller skates, roller blades, skateboards and other similar devices are not allowed.

* 2 p.m. - Ribbon-cutting ceremony.

* 3 p.m. - Ceremonial first crossing. Veterans groups with vintage war vehicles and local classic car groups in their vintage autos will be the first motorized traffic to cross the span. The Budweiser Clydesdales are also expected to take part in the ceremonial first crossing.

* 4 p.m. - The bridge closes to the public for final preperations for its opening to traffic. Missouri Department of Transportation bridge project director Randy Hitt said the remaining work includes removing barricades and replacing construction signs with permanent highway signs.

How to get there:

Illinois residents are urged to park at the old National City Stock Yards in East St. Louis, Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Jeff Church said.

"They'll be running shuttles from there to the bridge," Church said. "You can walk if you want, but it's about a mile and that could be a long way to go in the cold."

To get to the stockyards, exit Interstate 64 at Baugh Avenue and go straight through the first roundabout. At the second roundabout, turn right onto Ninth Street to the four-way stop at Exchange Avenue. Turn left on Exchange Avenue and go .8 miles, where you will see signs directing you to public parking.

If you want to park on the Missouri side of the bridge, Metro Transit has arranged free shuttle buses to pick people up from select parking areas. The buses will run from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

To use the free bridge shuttles, park at any of the free Metro Park-and-Ride lots along the MetroLink system in Missouri and Illinois and take the train to the Convention Center MetroLink. To ride MetroBus and MetroLink, attendees must have a valid fare. From the Convention Center Station, people can catch one of the free bridge shuttles at:

* Sixth Street north of Washington (west side of street)

* Washington Avenue and Seventh streets at the Metro Store (north side of the street)

* Ninth Street between Washington Avenue and Convention Plaza (east side of the street)

* Ninth and Cole streets (east side of the street)

* 11th and Cole streets (north side of the street)

There are parking garages near all five of these pick up locations, for those who prefer to drive downtown. Parking rates vary by facility. Those who prefer to drive should be aware that MoDot will close the ramp from eastbound Interstate 70 to Tucker Boulevard after the Friday morning rush hour to set up for the Saturday events.

Things you should know if you plan to go:

* While the bridge is open to the public saturday, MoDOT and IDOT will partner with Operation Food Search to collect food for needy families. Attendees are invited to bring canned goods or nonperishable items to donate and they will be collected to stock local food pantries. Operation Food Search distributes 2.75 million pounds of food monthly to 25 counties in Missouri and Illinois.

* Don't show up too early. The general public will not be allowed on the bridge until noon because of the morning races and because workers will be busy trying to set up.

* Pets, large or hard-sided coolers, alcohol and glass bottles are prohibited from Saturday's festivities.

When can you drive on the bridge?

* If you don't want to go to the Saturday events, your first chance to see the new bridge up close will come at about noon Sunday, when the new bridge is expected to be opened to traffic. The cost of the bridge, the roads leading to it and other work was $695 million.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

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