Poplar Street Bridge work: It's going to be hard to cross the river

News-DemocratMay 15, 2014 

AP GRAPHICS

Missouri is going to do something about those old ramps off westbound Poplar Street Bridge, and highway engineers are asking metro-east commuters to find ways around the whole area for quite some time.

"It's going to be an inconvenience to traffic, obviously," said Deanna Venker, the area engineer over the city of St. Louis with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The first phase of work will close the ramp to access westbound Interstate 70/Memorial Drive after Memorial Day. The ramp will be fully closed by May 28. But that's not all -- expect lane closures on the river crossing itself as well.

"The inconvencience will be that as we are working on this bridge, we are also replacing the driving surface on westbound as well. Permanently closed, behind barrier walls, until next spring," Venker said. "And during off-peak hours, which in that direction is morning rush hour, we will be working on the lane next to it too."

Resurfacing on the Poplar Street Bridge last summer was a temporary fix, Venker said.

MoDOT knew money would be available this summer for a more permanent fix, but something had to be done to protect the steel deck of the bridge, Venker said. The steel could rust, which would be a slippery driving surface.

Venker said the first ramp to be closed is one of the lesser-traveled ramps on the interchange, at about 250 cars an hour at peak times.

The ramps have reached the end of their expected 50-year lifespan, the engineer said. The bridge across the river is a hundred-year bridge, and is inspected every two years.

A spokesman for MoDot offered several alternatives for getting around the construction, including Metro transit.

"We know it's impacting people that commute," said Andrew Gates, spokesman for MoDOT.

Metro, including MetroLink, MetroBus, and Madison County Transit, are good options, Gates said. He also suggested changing work schedules to drive during off-peak hours or telecommuting to avoid the Poplar Street Bridge.

"We don't want to encourage people to think about the (Martin Luther King Bridge) because (the Illinois Department of Transportation) is resurfacing that starting in August," Gates said.

The Eads bridge also has lane restrictions for the next several months to allow Metro Transit to work.

"They're painting the whole thing for the first time in 125 years," said Dick Stockman of the St. Louis Street Departments engineering division. He says the Eads is a viable option to commuters even with the lane reduction. "It'll be open, it'll carry a car," he said.

Work on the Poplar Street Bridge is necessary, Gates said.

"Those ramps are more than 50 years old and need to be replaced," Gates said. "Now that we have some traffic off of the Poplar Street because of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial bridge, now we're going to make some necessary improvements, like a more gentle curve so we don't have tractor-trailer rollovers as much."

Replacing the ramp from westbound I-64 to Interstate 44 to the north and the westbound Interstate 64 ramp to Interstates 44/55 to the south, and resurfacing the driving lanes, will cost roughtly $25 million. The project is 80 percent federally funded, with Missouri paying the remaining.

Ultimately, the project will include adding a lane to the westbound side of the Poplar Street Bridge and adding a lane in the off-ramp to Interstate 55.

Now that the metro area has a dedicated Interstate 70 bridge, and Eads is getting fresh paint, and the Poplar Street is getting rejuvenated ... is there a day in our driving lifetimes that all lanes across all bridges will be open?

"I don't see that point, no," Venker said. "We are at that age in our city. Different parts of the city were built at differet times ... so you have to replace at different times."

For maps of the upcoming project, go to: www.modot.org/stlouis/major_projects/documents/PSB_Displays_10-03-13.pdf.

Construction phases

Phase 1 -- Through March 2015

Removes existing ramp from Poplar Street Bridge to Interstate 70 and Memorial

Begins construction of new ramps connecting Poplar Street Bridge to westbound Interstate 44/55

Closes one lane westbound on Poplar Street Bridge; second lane closed during off-peak hours.

Phase 2A -- March 2015

Removes existing ramp from eastbound Interstate 44 (depressed section) to eastbound Poplar Street Bridge. This ramp will not be replaced to make room for other ramps, engineer Deanna Venker says.

Opens two-lane ramp from Poplar Street Bridge to westbound Interstate 70.

Phase 2B -- March 2015

Removes ramp from westbound Poplar Street Bridge to southbound Interstate 55.

Phase 3 -- April to May 2015

Completes westbound Poplar Street Bridge to southbound Interstate 55.

Phases 4 and 5 -- April 2016 to June 2017

Closes part of ramp from northbound Interstate 55 to Poplar Street Bridge

Opens new part of ramp from northbound Interstate 55 to Poplar Street Bridge

Phase 6 -- July 2017

Closes all eastbound lanes on Poplar Street Bridge for one weekend; slides eastbound bridge 9 feet south to add lane.

Phase 7 -- July to November 2017

Connect decking of east and westbound bridges on Poplar Street Bridge

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