Sept. 1 target date for completion of Jefferson Barracks Bridge work

By BURKE WASSON

With plans to replace the Telegraph Road bridges over Interstate 255 scheduled for next year, Missouri Department of Transportation officials remain focused on completing work to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge by Sept. 1.

Project Manager Steve Truemper said last week that St. Louis Bridge crews are on track to finish repairs to the bridge’s expansion joints by their contracted date.

The project has required workers to not only replace the bridge’s expansion joints, but also repaint them.

Even with the expansion-joint work scheduled to be completed by Sept. 1, Truemper said crews still would have to perform additional work on the bridge’s westbound side for a few weeks in September. This will include shoulder work to access patches, which are used to go under the bridge itself for repairs.

Despite that expected additional work, Truemper said the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, which connects Missouri and Illinois over the Mississippi River, should have a minimum of two lanes open on both its eastbound and westbound sides for the rest of the project’s duration.

As for the scheduled 2007 replacement of the Telegraph Road bridges, MoDOT Project Manager Shirley Norris said since a June 28 public hearing, she has received comments and questions about the roughly $7 million project from a number of south county residents. Questions have ranged from whether there will be any lane closures at Telegraph Road to whether additional trees or gardens can be planted near the new bridge, which will be constructed next summer.

Even though the bridge replacement has been on the books for five years, Norris said she and MoDOT always receive a number of questions once a project builds steam and starts to become a reality.

“We publish a five-year, transportation-improvement program, which is monitored by (the) East-West Gateway (Coordinating Council),” Norris said. “It’s public knowledge for five years out. The truth of the matter is if you’re not in my business or not in the reporting of my business, then you really don’t look at anything unless it starts affecting you. It’s human nature. I mean, it’s not like the public didn’t know that we had JB Bridge scheduled and this job scheduled within a couple years of each other because it’s been out there for four or five years now. But when reality sets in, that’s when you get the confusion and the upset, you know.”

The two bridges will be replaced to form a single bridge. Construction on the bridge project is scheduled to begin in June 2007.

Besides replacing the two bridges with one, MoDOT crews also plan to construct a new two-lane loop ramp from northbound Telegraph Road to westbound I-255. The new ramp is designed to keep traffic moving and will not include a traffic light.

Design plans also call for the replacement of entrance and exit ramps on the south side of the Telegraph Road bridge. These ramps now are scheduled to be moved to the north side.

Norris reiterated last week that the project would have no road closures because it would severely delay traffic on Interstate 255.

She has heard both sides of this argument from residents — some who say that the closure would cause problems and others who would like to see a closure because they believe it would speed up the project.

Norris, however, said that with the Telegraph Road bridge replacement, any closure would, in fact, delay the process and illustrated her point by using the previous Lemay Ferry Road bridge project as an example.

“There were some concerns of we made some big impacts a few years ago when we closed Lemay Ferry (Road) over everybody’s dead body almost,” Norris said. “But to replace that bridge over 255, people said it wouldn’t work and it wouldn’t work. And the stars all lined up in the right order, and we were lucky enough to affect that closure in a very short period of time compared to what we were thinking it would be.

“And now this one (Telegraph Road) does not work with closure. It just doesn’t. And we had a traffic modeling going during that public hearing that showed exactly what would happen to traffic if we closed the bridge and tried to reroute it — even for less number of months than trying to leave the bridges open and do them under construction. On the surface of things, a lot of people would believe it’s got to take less time if you close the road, especially since we made that impact. Well, that’s not true in every case. And when we did the traffic modeling, we saw that particularly the traffic on 255 would be heavily impacted by closing the road. And that’s why we proposed not to close it.”

Other residents have raised concerns about the quality of the new bridge on Telegraph Road compared to other new bridges in the area.

What Norris said some people do not understand is that these “fancier” enhancement projects are funded by cities and counties — not MoDOT.

“Some people approached me with: ‘Why can’t we get a fancy bridge like west county gets?'” Norris said. “Now, MoDOT does not put money in enhancements. Let’s take one of my favorite projects — the newest bridge over the Meramec River just north of Arnold on (Highway) 61. The perception is MoDOT put all those white picket fences and all those lights that look like they’re bent. The truth is Arnold paid for all that. It’s enhancement money. Yes, we marked it with our project. Yes, we did agreements. Yes, they did pay for it and they will pay for the maintenance of it. So, the message is MoDOT has standard things they do with your MoDOT tax money.

“There are other monies available through other resources toward this enhancement or improvement. There’s several different classifications of money that have been allocated either to counties or municipalities. The problem with (the Telegraph Road) location in that regard is that it’s unincorporated. So they’d have to go through St. Louis County to get enhancement money. Well, guess how many people are pulling on St. Louis County for enhancement money? And that’s a hard message to send because the perception — and I can understand how they feel — is: ‘What are we? Chopped liver? We’re down here in south county and we’re an older, established community and yet we get the schlock and they get all the fancy stuff?’ It’s the public’s perception and reaction, which I can totally understand. And the best thing I can do is just keep reminding them how this stuff happens.”

One area of beautification that MoDOT crews will work toward is replanting some oak trees near the Interstate 255-Telegraph Road interchange that have been taken down because of planned construction.

At the same time, Norris said the department would not add other amenities that residents would like because of safety and traffic-flow concerns. She has heard requests for additional trees, gardens and even fountains near the intersection.

“As a motorist, you count on us to provide the correct safety latitude so you don’t run into a tree and bang yourself up, right?” Norris said. “Now that’s why I call a design criteria. So when people say they want fountains inside the ramps and they want these gardens planted and they want all these trees, the first thing I do as a project manager is think: ‘Oh my gosh. How am I going to get that done?’ That’s considered an obstruction, and you don’t realize how many people are going to get hurt …”

Other than the questions about how to best complete the changes at Telegraph Road for the new bridge, other residents have questioned the need for the project altogether. Norris, on the other hand, said that if drivers want to continue to drive safely onto Interstate 255 from Telegraph Road, the work is a must.

“I had a couple who challenged the need or the validity of the project,” Norris said. “Of course, I will supply them with the bridge condition. And if they could have felt safe doing it, I think if they got under there, they’d be appalled as to what they’re driving over.”