Transportation planners expect the four-lane bridge to siphon 40,000 cars and trucks each day off the other downtown Mississippi River crossings — once people become familiar with it. That would reduce Poplar Street Bridge traffic by 20 percent, and Martin Luther King Bridge traffic by half.
Removing the I-70 traffic load from the crowded Poplar Street Bridge — which still will carry Interstates 55 and 64 — was one of the driving influences behind the project.
It creates a new, three-mile I-70 path to connect the St. Louis side, about a half-mile north of downtown’s Edward Jones Dome downtown, to the I-55-64 interchange in East St. Louis.
Discussions about a new bridge date to 1991, and Missouri and Illinois spent years wrangling over what it should look like, where it should be and how to pay for it.
The $695 million project was dramatically scaled back from the original vision of an eight-lane signature bridge, held up by twin 500-foot towers. Along with the related highway projects, the cost would have broken the bank, at up to $2 billion.
The original design, for instance, included rebuilding approaches to the Poplar Street Bridge and relocating Illinois Route 3.
Design of the cable-stayed bridge was whittled down to four lanes, two in each direction, with room to restripe it for six lanes.
Even at that, the support towers still rise 400 feet from their pedestals, nearly 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. And the structure ranks as the nation’s third-longest cable-stayed bridge, with a main span of 1,500 feet.
By contrast, the cable-stayed Clark Bridge, completed in 1994 across the river at Alton, has 250-foot towers and a 756-foot main span.
MORE BRIDGE WORK COMING
For motorists who have grown weary of construction, the break will be brief. After opening the new I-70 bridge, MoDOT and others will turn their focus to other high-profile interchanges and bridges near downtown St. Louis.
By this summer, IDOT will repair the deck and superstructure on the Martin Luther King Bridge, Church said. The work will close that span for six to nine months, beginning in late summer.
“We had to make sure the new bridge was done,” he said.
MoDOT will reconfigure antiquated ramps to and from the Poplar Street Bridge, including the one that now leads from the newly bypassed stretch of old Interstate 70. That section, northward to the new bridge, becomes part of I-44, effective Sunday.
Ultimately, a fifth eastbound lane will be added to the Poplar Street Bridge by sliding the existing traffic lanes to the south and running the new lane down the middle.
“We have been anxiously awaiting to address all of that but we really wanted to get a relief valve with the new Stan Musial Bridge,” Hitt explained.