Confusion on the bridge: IDOT left 'closed' signs up for rush hour

News-DemocratFebruary 10, 2014 

The first morning commute with the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge open to the public may have been a bit confusing for motorists.

At least two signs that should have been directing westbound traffic onto the new span indicated Monday morning that the bridge was still closed, even though it opened Sunday.

One of the signs was on westbound Interstate 55 and the other on westbound Interstate 64.

According to Illinois Department of Transportation officials, the signs were not changed Sunday because of unexpected snowfall.

The "closed" signs were removed Monday.

Swansea resident Tom Blizzard said he hasn't tried the new bridge yet. But he said he thought the commute across the Poplar Street Bridge was easier because the new bridge lightened the traffic load.

Kara Chiumento, of Belleville, disagreed. She thought traffic was heavier than usual.

"My commute across the Poplar Street Bridge was worse," Chiumento said. "I don't know if it had to do with the fact that the signs still said the new bridge was closed. How does IDOT miss that little detail?"

IDOT district engineer Joseph Monroe said workers had hoped to take down the signs that indicated the bridge was closed. But he said the snow Sunday afternoon caused visibility problems for motorists.

We knew we had snow coming in and we didn't want to risk worker safety," Monroe said. "Considering the amount of press we received about it, we figured we figured people were aware that the bridge was open."

Monroe said the work would have caused an interstate lane to have to be closed and workers to be boomed over the traffic lanes in a bucket truck to get the signs down. And the need to take them down didn't outweigh the risk.

Randy Hitt, Musial Bridge project director for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the morning commute went well on the new span.

"We don't have any traffic counts yet," Hitt said. "But everything was flowing smoothly."

Hitt said the numbers for the first few days likely won't be an accurate indicator of the bridge's true impact on the commute across the river.

"A lot of people still don't know the bridge is open," Hitt said. "And it will take a while for commuters to adjust their route."

Hitt said the biggest problem on the bridge so far is a seemingly never-ending stream of amateur photographers who either attempt to pull over onto the shoulder to snap a shot or two -- or else try to do it while they're driving across.

"It's not the best idea to pull over on the interstate to take pictures," Hitt warned. "But people seem to be enjoying the trip across."

Monroe said some signs marking the new bridge approach in honor of retired U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello still need to be placed and that signs directing to the traffic to the new bridge might have to be added or moved as traffic patterns develop.

"We expect it to ebb and flow over the next few months," Monroe said of usage of the bridge. "People will be trying some new things on their way to work and it will take a while for them to sort out what works best for them"

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

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