The completion of the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge is just the foundation for a boom of road construction that will connect the people and the economy of the metro-east to St. Louis, according to regional director of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Jeff Keirn spoke to a crowd at a Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce Issues and Eggs Breakfast Wednesday morning at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows.
He said that a new road connecting Illinois 3 to River Park Drive in East St. Louis, as well as improvements to the Martin Luther King Bridge and the Poplar Street bridge, will work with the Musial bridge to develop the Illinois side of the Mississippi riverfront.
"This will be a great example of how putting funds into infrastructure improvement can do great things for a region," Keirn said.
Because of the new accessibility, the area from the old National City Stockyards to the East St. Louis riverfront is a "fabulous area with tremendous potential for growth," Keirn continued.
Now that the Musial bridge is finished, work to rehab the Martin Luther King and Poplar Street Bridges can begin, he said.
"When the work is done, traffic will finally flow freely between the metro-east and St. Louis," Keirn said.
Jeff Watson, president of the Casino Queen, said that the improvements are vital for his business and the future development of the metro-east as a whole.
"It's important not only to me but to every one of our owner employees," Watson said. "And the more traffic we can get for our businesses is vital to everyone who lives in this region."
Watson said he often tells customers that they have the choice of staying at a hotel in St. Louis and looking across the river at the casino and a neighboring grain mill -- or they can stay at the Casino hotel and look the other way across the river to the skyline of the city of St. Louis.
"But there is no reason that we can't match the beautiful skyline of St. Louis one day with a beautiful skyline of our own."
The investment in the Musial bridge was about $700 million. Another $100 million will be spent on the complimentary road and bridge projects.
"If there are three words you leave here with today, they should be: 'Growth follows infrastructure,'" said St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern. "This is an area that is primed for growth."
Kern said regional leaders need to combine roads and bridges with the natural asset that is the Mississippi River. He added that they also need to push for high speed rail in St. Clair County. He envisions a day when college students can live in the metro-east and go to school at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Kern said there is talk about a high-speed rail route going to Alton but that there's no reason why it couldn't also go to East St. Louis. There, riders could get off the high-speed train and get on the MetroLink to get to St. Louis.
"We can be sure it won't be here in St. Clair County if we don't stand up and make a pitch for it," Kern said of the high-speed rail system.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or 618-239-2626.