Metro-East News

MoDOT understands your frustration, but this is why they are closing the bridge ramp

St. Louis-area residents, particularly Illinois commuters, are upset about a five-month closure of the eastbound ramp onto the Poplar Street Bridge to Illinois. The ramp closure was scheduled to begin about 9 p.m. Friday.

“What I’m seeing on our Facebook page is a lot of frustration because it means they’re going to have to find a different way home,” MoDOT spokesman Andrew Gates said. “This is a big deal to people.”

The ramp normally takes vehicles on Interstate 44 east/Interstate 55 north in St. Louis across the Poplar Street Bridge on Interstate 64. It’s being closed so workers can rebuild it and widen it from one lane to two.

Two of four eastbound lanes on the Poplar Street Bridge also will be closed for resurfacing.

MoDOT could have allowed traffic to continue on a narrowed section of the ramp instead of closing it, Gates said, but that would have lengthened the construction period to 10 months and made it hard for trucks, which account for 20 percent of vehicles.

“By closing it, we’ll be able to do it a little bit quicker, even though the impact is greater,” he said.

Officials estimate the ramp will reopen in early February. It could be earlier if weather permits and there are no complications, Gates said, but the agency is trying not to cause disappointment if expectations aren’t met.

“We really want to be conservative when we make these estimates,” he said.

The detour from Interstates 44/55 has drivers staying on 44 for more than 2 miles, taking exit 293 and turning right on Madison or Tyler, right on Broadway and right on Cass, continuing over the Stan Musial Bridge into Illinois.

Drivers may want to consider charting new routes that avoid downtown St. Louis altogether or reducing overall traffic by carpooling or riding MetroLink, Gates said.

“MetroLink is a good option,” he said. “It has a lot of stops in Illinois. It’s a great way to get downtown.”

Other possible routes from St. Louis to Illinois include:

▪  Accessing eastbound Interstate 64 on the Sixth Street ramp in downtown St. Louis and going over the Poplar Street Bridge.

▪  Accessing the Stan Musial Bridge (eastbound Interstate 70) from Tucker just north of downtown St. Louis.

▪  Crossing the Mississippi on the Martin Luther King, McKinley or Eads bridges from downtown St. Louis, but this is not recommended for trucks, and drivers could risk getting caught in congestion on city streets.

▪  Taking Interstates 270/255 south of St. Louis and crossing the Mississippi on the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

▪  Taking Interstate 270 north of St. Louis and crossing the Mississippi on the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

Illinois commuters still are weighing their options.

Christy Wohlgemuth, 39, of Swansea, drives every day to south St. Louis to work as a math instructional coach at a charter school. To get home using the Poplar Street Bridge, she normally takes the Interstate 44/55 ramp – which is closing.

“Honestly, I have not decided what I’m going to do,” she said. “I think staying out of downtown is going to be my best bet.”

Wohlgemuth has been commuting for 17 years. She often faces construction delays, but she loves her job so she keeps crossing the river Monday through Friday and sometimes on weekends.

Wohlgemuth’s time on the road can range from 40 to 90 minutes each way. A couple of years ago, she did some calculations and concluded that her commute had been construction-free only 12 months (non-consecutively).

“In general, I’m an incredibly positive person,” she said. “I’m very Pollyanna, and I’ve been doing this a long time. But at the same time, it is so frustrating. There are constant closures (on the Poplar Street Bridge). First, it’s one lane and then another and another. I don’t understand why the road has to be resurfaced so often.”

Many Illinois commuters already have been taking the Stan Musial Bridge, which opened three years ago, to get home.

It was built to alleviate traffic on the Poplar Street Bridge and make way for the current construction projects, including resurfacing the older bridge and widening its ramps.

“Our best suggestion is to avoid that area if you’re trying to get to Illinois, if possible,” Gates said.

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter