By ROBERT KELLY
A new replacement Merchants Bridge railroad span over the Mississippi River north of downtown St. Louis is among the most exciting and important construction projects the St. Louis area has seen in several decades, speaker after speaker said at the recent dedication ceremony for the bridge.
Although the Merchants Bridge is virtually unknown to many area residents, it carries much of the freight railroad tonnage that passes across the Mississippi and through the bi-state area of Missouri and Illinois. It also serves Amtrak passenger trains.
“The bridge connects our two states and provides an important link for rail traffic to both coasts,” said Mayor Tyrone Echols of the Metro East community of Venice.
UNION ALL THE WAY
Iron Workers Locals 396 and 392 members set the steel for the new bridge. Operating Engineers Local 513 members ran cranes for the project. Members of local unions of Laborers, Carpenters, Pile Drivers, Electricians, Painters, Quality Control Technicians, Surveyors, and Rail Workers also participated.
Walsh said construction was finished “early, on budget, and with an incredible safety record. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”
BETWEEN ST. LOUIS AND VENICE
The $222 million new Merchants Bridge is just north of the McKinley Bridge, an old highway bridge that directly connects St. Louis and Venice. The new railroad bridge was dedicated on Thursday, Sept. 15, after more than four years of construction.
Echols added that construction is expected to start soon on a new $52 million expansion of the Terminal Railroad Association’s Venice yard. It will serve many of the freight trains that use the Merchants Bridge.
Planning to replace the 132-year-old former Merchants Bridge began a decade ago, with cooperation from government officials and planning agencies on both sides of the river.
STRATEGIC LOCATION FOR FREIGHT TRAFFIC
“We did it! It’s been a long time!” exclaimed Mary Lamie, executive vice president for Multi-Modal Enterprises at Bi-State Development. “We’re the epicenter of global logistics for freight train traffic.”
Lamie said the new bridge is at “the most strategic location along the Mississippi River” for freight traffic.
The 4,340-foot steel truss bridge has a capacity of more than 70 trains a day. The old, deteriorated bridge could safely handle only 32 freight trains daily, officials said.
The new span will prevent rail traffic from being rerouted away from the St. Louis area because of a lack of bridge capacity, said Matt Walsh, co-chairman of The Walsh Group. The group’s Walsh Construction Co. was the general contractor on the Merchants Bridge project.
Much of the financing was done by the Bank of America, with help from governmental grants from both Missouri and Illinois.
“Great things happen when we all come together in a regional way,” said Marilyn Bush, president of Bank of America St. Louis.
Brent Wood, president of the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, said, “This project supported 1,100 construction-related prevailing wage jobs as the work progressed over the past four years, to deliver a new structure with increased national rail and multi-modal capacity.
“It was everybody working together, and for that I thank you all,” Wood continued. “There was a lot of dedicated teamwork to make this project happen.”
More information about the huge bridge project is available at https://www.thefreightway.com/installation-of-final-truss-marks-one-of-the-last-major-milestones-for-merchants-bridge-reconstruction-project.