ST. LOUIS – Interstate 70 motorists and truckers trying to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis soon will have a different option, and with any luck, it’ll be faster.
Missouri and Illinois officials announced Thursday that the new four-lane-cable stayed bridge named after St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial will open to traffic Feb. 9, a celebrated milestone for a $700 million project that took a few years – and a few squabbles – to complete.
The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, or the “Stan Span,” will relieve traffic on the chronically crammed, 50-year-old Poplar Street Bridge, which is one of just two bridges in the nation that accommodates three freeways.
“This historic project will not only improve safety and reduce congestion but will create an entirely new corridor for economic development between two great states,” Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to opening this much-needed bridge.”
His Missouri counterpart, Gov. Jay Nixon, waxed historic, noting that the new bridge comes 140 years after Eads Bridge first linked the two states. The Musial bridge, he said, “is the latest span to bring commerce and travelers across the Mississippi River at this nexus of our country.”
The bridge’s beginnings weren’t so friendly. Before even a clump of dirt was turned over in 2010, Missouri and Illinois spent years squabbling over how to pay for the span. Missouri insisted it be a tollway – a notion flatly rejected by Illinois as potentially onerous for tens of thousands of its residents who commute daily to St. Louis and the Missouri-side suburbs.
Illinois later proposed a sister bridge to an existing span, calling it affordable at $450 million. Missouri said it wasn’t a long-term solution.
Both states ended the impasse in early 2008, announcing a compromise after Missouri relented on the tolls.
Even the naming of the bridge was testy. Missouri lawmakers and key members of Congress from both states wanted the bridge to bear the name of Musial, the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer who died in January. But the Illinois House voted 109-0 on a resolution in the spring to call it the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
President Barack Obama signed the compromise legislation earlier this year, naming the bridge in honor of both veterans and Musial, who served World War II.
The federal government has appropriated $239 million for the project. Illinois is paying $313 million and Missouri $115 million. The Missouri Department of Transportation said Illinois is paying nearly three times more than Missouri because most of the work to connect the new bridge to existing interstate infrastructure is in Illinois.
The day before the bridge opens to traffic, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and other events, including letting pedestrians walk out onto the span.