About a half mile east of the closed Martin Luther King Bridge, workers spread rock to form the base of a new ramp that is being put in place. Other workers pour concrete foam within concrete panels forming a wall.
Further down, other workers are driving steel piers into the ground, which will help elevate the road 25 to 30 feet above the ground as it goes over two sets of railroads, a Union Pacific line and a Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis line, as well as a MetroLink line.
The Illinois Department of Transportation is in the midst of a $27.7 million project to build the MLK Connector, a new ramp that connects eastbound traffic on the Martin Luther King Bridge to southbound Illinois 3.
The connection on the 10-inch thick pavement will be about three-quarters of a mile long, said Joel Cumby, a senior resident engineer for IDOT.
The ramp would allow people coming from St. Louis over the MLK Bridge to connect to southbound Illinois 3 toward Sauget and Cahokia.
IDOT expects the MLK Connector to be completed by the spring of 2017, said Jeff Keirn, IDOT Region 5 engineer.
When complete, the connector should last about 30 to 40 years without needing major repairs, Keirn added.
The new connection is expected see about 5,000 vehicles a day, with a morning peak of about 100 vehicles per hour, and an evening peak of 500 vehicles per hour in 2035, according to IDOT documents.
Construction of the new connection is taking place at the same time as the MLK Bridge is closed for resurfacing, among other repairs. That project had been delayed because of the first set of bids came in higher than expected.
The MLK bridge itself is expected to reopen in December.
The one-lane MLK Connector ramp replaces the function of a ramp that came from downtown St. Louis onto the Poplar Street Bridge and connected to southbound Illinois 3. It was removed by the Missouri Department of Transportation as part of the PSB improvements, which began after the completion of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
A ramp that took westbound Interstate 44 motorists to the Poplar Street Bridge was removed in order to accomodate a new two-lane ramp that takes westbound Poplar Street Bridge motorists onto westbound Interstate 44 and Southbound Interstate 55, said MoDOT spokesman Drew Gates.
As the bridge improvements were planned, a study was done between IDOT and MoDOT, along with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, on how to best replace the access back to southbound Illinois 3 from St. Louis, Keirn said.
The one-lane MLK Connector ramp replaces the function of a ramp that came from downtown St. Louis onto the Poplar Street Bridge and connected to southbound Illinois 3. It was removed by the Missouri Department of Transportation as part of the PSB improvements.
“There was a lot of concern from St. Clair County and Sauget we were removing a movement that was there for a long time and not having that return movement coming from St. Louis to Route 3,” Keirn said.
As part of the project, workers will need to widen the existing road to Illinois 3 along westbound Interstate 64. That work will require closing the far right lane along westbound I-64 and take place after the Martin Luther King Bridge reopens, said Ted Nemsky, IDOT District 8 construction engineer.
The lane had initially closed in August, but IDOT backed off of it because the traffic back ups that occured with the MLK Bridge closed.
“When they set the lane closure ... due to traffic impact, the department requested the contractor remove that lane closure,” Cumby said. “That has since affected their (the contractor’s) schedule.”
When the lane closure eventually goes into place, work will include tearing off some of the deck, removing some of the beams, widening the substructure, putting in new beams, and widening the deck, Cumby said.
So far 18 percent of the MLK Connector project is complete, with workers on site six days a week, Cumby said.