Two months after it opened, officials say traffic levels on the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge are somewhat lower than original projections.
The new bridge was expected to carry about 40,000 vehicles a day when it was built. But, according to Illinois Department of Transportation figures released Monday, the bridge has averaged about 31,100 a day since it opened in early February.
IDOT programming engineer Tiffany Brase said that's a temporary circumstance and not a sign that the $700 million bridge is a bust.
"The numbers look really good, actually," Brase said. "It's pretty much where we would expect them to be with the bridge being open for only a couple of months. People need to remember there are still a lot of things that have to be completed before traffic flows the way it is planned to go."
This summer work to change traffic flow on the Poplar Street Bridge will begin now that the Musial Bridge is in operation. The Poplar Street Bridge eventually will be disconnected from Interstate 70, taking those motorists off the old span.
It also takes a while after a new bridge is opened, Brase said, for commuters to change their tried and true route to the office.
When the bridge was proposed, Missouri Department of Transportation Project Director Randy Hitt predicted that it would handle about 40,000 cars a day, with 30,000 of them coming off the Poplar Street Bridge and another 10,000 coming from the Martin Luther King and Eads bridges.
About 120,000 cars a day crossed the Poplar Street Bridge before the Musial Bridge was done. It will continue to carry traffic for Interstates 44, 55 and 64 while losing the I-70 traffic.
According to IDOT figures released Monday, about 106,500 vehicles are crossing the Poplar Street Bridge daily. But Brase notes that traffic across the river has increased in the last year by 7.4 percent.
A total of 163,250 vehicles a day crossed all the bridges spanning the Mississippi at St. Louis in 2013. So far this year an average of 175,400 are making the trek across the river.
Hitt said if there is any surprise in the numbers, it's the increased overall traffic, not the number of vehicles on the Musial Bridge.
"I wouldn't call it disappointing at all," Hitt said of the traffic count. "I saw the raw numbers and I think the thing that has thrown people off is the increase in traffic we have seen from 2013 to 2014. If you look at that increase, the numbers are pretty much on target.
"Without the increase, traffic on the Poplar Street Bridge would be down 19 percent and Martin Luther King would be down about 44 percent."
Hitt said the Musial Bridge is showing its impact in other ways.
"The reduced commute times are the big difference," Hitt said. "It takes a while for the Garmins (and other electronic navigation devices) to adapt to the changes. But right now things are trending about where we thought they would go."
An exact date for severing the I-70 connections to the Poplar Street Bridge hasn't been set yet, Hitt said. But when that happens, he expects a dramatic shift of traffic to the new crossing.
How the other bridges are doing:
* Eads Bridge: Down about 3,000 vehicles a day, to 8,100. Part of that decrease might be due to construction that has reduced it from four lanes to two.
* Martin Luther King: Down 40 percent to 12,700 vehicles a day.
*McKinley Bridge: About 17,000 vehicles a day, close to what it averaged last year.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.