By CARL GREEN
Granite City – The Illinois Department of Transportation recently revealed at a public meeting that it is planning to replace the aging Chain of Rocks Bridge on Interstate 270 with a new, wider span just south of the current bridge.
Officials showed the five locations they are considering, all close to the current bridge, and said the southside one would let them keep traffic on the old bridge until the new one is ready and maintain a sufficient distance from the Dunn Road intersection on the Missouri side.
The five routes do not touch on the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge further south, now used for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Planners are considering expanding the bridge from two lanes each way to three with adequate shoulders, unlike the current bridge. The cost is currently estimated at $225 million for engineering, land acquisition, utility relocation and construction. The planning phases are funded but construction would have to be funded in future highway programs.
The department also said it is beginning a study this year that could lead to widening of I-270 to six lanes through Madison County from the bridge to Illinois 157 in Edwardsville. That would improve a highly congested zone.
The projects are separate from the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plans to widen I-270 through north St. Louis County, but the bridge project is being designed to be compatible.
BUILT IN ’66
The current bridge was built in 1966 and has shown deterioration in recent years, while traffic on it has increased and a high number of crashes have been recorded, in part because of the lack of shoulders.
A frequently-asked-questions report from the department makes these points:
• Whether to have one span or two has not been determined.
• Bicycle and pedestrian lanes will be considered.
• The final size of the bridge has not been decided.
• Preliminary engineering and environmental studies should be completed in early 2019, followed by the design phase, but no timetable has been established for construction.
“The existing bridge carrying I-270 over the Mississippi River connecting Illinois and Missouri is aging and in need of continual repairs,” the department’s project statement reads. “There is a need to provide a sustainable long-term solution that increases safety, accommodates future traffic growth and provides for the continued movement of regional and national goods and services while preserving the environmental, recreational and economic viability within the project area.”
MAKE IT HAPPEN
People commenting at the public meeting supported the project but wanted to see it happen faster.
“The existing bridge has got to go,” said retired steelworker and former sheriff’s deputy David Hammers of Mitchell, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
“It has been a death trap for years. It’s obsolete in design. It’s too narrow, only two lanes in each direction, and narrow lanes at that. You can sit in the passenger seat and reach out and touch a semi trailer in the other lane – it’s that close. And there are no shoulders for those who need to get off after a wreck.”
Hammers recalled having to park his police car at one end and run out onto the bridge after accidents.
Another public meeting is to be held on a date yet to be determined. More information about the project can be found on the department website, idot.illinois.gov or at the project website, idot.illinois.gov/projects/i-270-over-the-mississippi-river.