Metro-East News

IDOT says long-delayed Illinois 15 project will be done by August — and might end up in court

Illinois 15 bridge work near Belleville

Work continues on the westbound Illinois 15 bridge near the Charles Street exit to Belleville. Both eastbound and westbound lanes of 15 are down to one lane in each direction as traffic shares the newly-completed eastbound bridge.
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Work continues on the westbound Illinois 15 bridge near the Charles Street exit to Belleville. Both eastbound and westbound lanes of 15 are down to one lane in each direction as traffic shares the newly-completed eastbound bridge.

The long-troubled Illinois 15 project over Illinois 13 near Belleville and west of Eckert’s is now expected to be completed this summer — three years later than scheduled and over the original $14.4 million construction cost, Illinois Department of Transportation representatives say.

How much the long-delayed project is over budget has yet to be determined, IDOT said.

“We anticipate additional costs to the overall $14.4 million project cost due to errors during the design process,” said IDOT spokeswoman Kelsea Gurski. “The full scope will be determined once the project is completed and we know how the actual construction costs were impacted by the revised bridge design. We will be seeking reimbursement due to errors committed by our design consultant and are confident we will be successful doing so.”

Last year, IDOT had hoped to finish the project by July 2016, but a troublesome temporary retaining wall had to be removed and redesigned, leading to another delay, said supervising field engineer Steve Putz.

Removing the temporary wall was a slow process in cramped quarters, Putz said.

“Something like that was so time-consuming,” Putz said.

The temporary wall was needed so workers could put in a permanent wall next to the railroad tracks which go underneath Illinois 15.

Putz would not comment on what the design issue was with the temporary retaining wall, saying it may end up in litigation.

The project was delayed as it was redesigned to make sure there was enough clearance over the Illinois Central Railroad. Additional work was needed to ensure soil would not settle near the railroad tracks, IDOT engineers have said in the past.

Work began in July 2012 for the staged removal and replacement of the mainline bridges of Illinois 15 over the railroad and Illinois 13 near Belleville. Lane restrictions have been in place since 2013, when IDOT began demolishing the eastbound side bridge.

Gurski said the consulting engineers, STV Inc., stayed on the project after the design errors were discovered.

STV Inc. was responsible for correcting the design at their own expense, Gurski said.

Debra Trace, a spokeswoman for STV Inc., said the company would not comment for this story.

Workers are preparing to pour concrete for the second of the two bridges on the project.

“We’re making good headway,” Putz said.

We’re making good headway.

IDOT Engineer Steve Putz

Keller Construction, the contractor on the project, has provided traffic barriers for the project and has been paid during the long work.

“Safety is the Illinois Department of Transportation’s top priority, especially with bridges,” Gurski said. “Our goal is to build a safe facility, and we are working very hard to get this project completed. Throughout construction, we have strived to keep one lane open in each direction at all times to minimize any inconvenience to the traveling public.”

Putz said before the project is completed, another lane shift is planned. Traffic is planned to be shifted in July from eastbound lanes to the westbound lanes.

The shoulders on the eastbound lanes will have to be replaced. The slopes on the road failed.

“I think it was a combination of the soils and the retaining wall that was there,” Putz said. “It didn’t work, and we had problems with it.”

The delays have been frustrating for motorists.

Mike Grey, 52, of Fairview Heights, commutes to his job as a cook at Eckert’s Restaurant, where he has to be in by 6 a.m. in order to help open the doors.

He used to drive from Illinois 161, to Frank Scott Parkway to Illinois 15, a route that takes him 15 to 20 minutes.

“I loved going that way because it was the quickest route,” Grey said.

On one morning, Illinois 15, which is reduced to one lane in each direction west of Eckert’s, was blocked off because of a possible crash. He couldn’t turn around and was stuck.

“Luckily it didn’t take long, and I didn’t get here much after 6 a.m., but it was a bad problem, and I said, ‘I can’t do that any more.’”

Due to the construction project on Illinois 15, Grey now commutes 25 to 30 minutes through Belleville to get to work.

If the ongoing construction goes as scheduled, Grey will be able to return to his quicker route to work by August.

Since I do drive it every day, it’s usually not bad with traffic, unless in the afternoon when people are coming home from work going home to Freeburg or Fairview, traffic is a little heavier, but I don’t find any delays. It’s just, ‘Why is it taking so long?’

Sarah Owens, of Belleville

Paul Goelz lives a mile and a half east of the project and works as a construction project site manager in the St. Louis area.

Goelz commutes past the project at least twice a day and has been frustrated with the slow progress.

He said the length of the project means equipment and traffic barriers are probably costing IDOT more money if they are being rented.

“You never see anyone working out there,” Goelz said.

He said other bridge projects have been done more quickly, pointing to the Illinois 157 bridge in Caseyville, over the MetroLink and Illinois 161, and the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

He said someone has to be held accountable if it was designed incorrectly.

“You don’t get a free pass,” Goelz said.

Even though a bridge deck has been recently poured, Goelz said he wondered how long it would take to get guardrails up.

Mike Grey, of Fairview Heights, commutes to his job as a cook at Eckert's Restaurant in Belleville. He says he has changed his route away from Illinois Route 15 because of the ongoing construction project.

Other motorists, although frustrated with the long project, are taking the delays in stride.

Sarah Owens, 21, of Belleville, has been a server at Eckert’s for three years and is attending Southwestern Illinois College.

She travels on Illinois 15 six days a week to get to her part-time job.

“Since I do drive it every day, it’s usually not bad with traffic, unless in the afternoon when people are coming home from work, going home to Freeburg or Fairview, traffic is a little heavier, but I don’t really find any delays,” Owens said. “It’s just, ‘Why is it taking so long?’”

She said she has noticed more workers lately during the week.

“That’s why I was (thinking) ‘this is moving forward a little,’” Owens said.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

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