Illinois commuters are coping with the week-old closure of the eastbound ramp onto the Poplar Street Bridge in downtown St. Louis, but few are following the Missouri Department of Transportation’s suggested detour.
The detour sends drivers 2 miles north on Interstate 44 east, loops around city streets and crosses the Mississippi River on the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Drivers are finding other alternatives, many taking the Martin Luther King Bridge, McKinley Bridge or Eads Bridge.
“We are definitely seeing an increase in traffic moving on other bridges, as well as onto the Sixth Street ramp onto the Poplar Street Bridge,” said MoDOT spokesman Andrew Gates. “We are not seeing people take the suggested detour that we put out there. (The Musial bridge is) definitely underused.”
Christina Tenny, 33, of O’Fallon, isn’t surprised people are gravitating toward the Martin Luther King Bridge. She was surprised by its light traffic when she started taking it nine months ago to avoid construction and congestion on the Poplar Street Bridge.
In June, Tenny discovered a new, improved way to get from the bridge to her job in Soulard. She drives along the Mississippi riverfront on the newly elevated Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard and continues on the largely deserted Wharf Street.
“For me, it’s the best way,” said Tenny, an administrative assistant for a manufacturing company. “I bypass all the streets downtown and all the stoplights.”
Lacy Evancich, 33, of O’Fallon, has been taking the Martin Luther King Bridge for nearly a year to get to her job as an accounting clerk on Laclede’s Landing.
She hasn’t noticed much of a traffic increase in the past week due to the Poplar Street Bridge ramp closure.
“But I have noticed an increase on Highway 64 where you get on the bridge,” she said. “It’s just backed up more. I was 10 minutes late for work (Thursday).”
MoDOT closed the eastbound ramp onto the Poplar Street Bridge from Interstates 44/55 on Sept. 8 to rebuild it and widen it from one lane to two. It’s expected to reopen in early February.
During the five-month construction period, workers also will be resurfacing two out of the four eastbound lanes on the Poplar Street Bridge, so those are closed, too.
“We’re getting the expected level of people going, ‘Oh my goodness, more construction on the Poplar Street Bridge?’ This is making things challenging for us,’” Gates said. “We get that.”
Wednesday got even more challenging when workers had to close one of the bridge’s two remaining eastbound lanes to reposition construction-related metal plates that had shifted loose.
MoDOT has made a couple of minor changes related to signage in the past week, Gates said. Some drivers following the detour were mistakenly turning right on 10th Street instead of Cass Avenue before getting on the Musial bridge. Workers moved a directional sign to make the route clearer.
The main reason MoDOT is suggesting that drivers take the Musial bridge is to alleviate congestion downtown along the riverfront, Gates said. Traffic is particularly heavy from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
“If you are one of those individuals who can adjust your schedule and go earlier or later, that would be great,” Gates said.