Part 1: Building a bridge without tolls - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Part 1: Building a bridge without tolls

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It's been the center piece of political campaigns and a point of contention for decades. We're talking about the controversy over tolling bridges.

Two years ago, Fox 41 traveled to St. Louis where there was a plan to build a new bridge without the use of tolls. Now that plan is a reality. In the first part of this series, we examine how Missouri and Illinois put aside their differences and managed to build a bridge without tolls.

In another river city, where the Arch marks the gateway to the west, there is work underway. A construction crew is moving earth to create the approach for what will become a new bridge carrying Interstate 70 across the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. 

The new bridge won't require tolls. So how did this happen?

"It was very controversial. We talked about bringing a public-private partnership and basically lease it to them and how they get their money back is charge tolls. A lot of people who use the bridge live in Illinois and work in Missouri. There was a thought that they would pay for most of the cost of the bridge and they have a point there," said Greg Horn, project director for Mississippi River bridge.

The bridge is part of a plan to re-route I-70 to reduce traffic congestion downtown.

"In the mornings it backs up for miles on the Illinois side. So people will go all the around to south county, or take the other bridge to avoid it," said Kelly Davis, St. Louis resident.

The initial project called for an eight-lane bridge costing more than $2 billion.

"Unfortunately, it was way too expensive," said Horn.

"They were going to build a massive bridge that was going to detract from the Arch and they decide to downsize and save some money," said Kelly Davis, St. Louis resident.

So in 2001, Missouri and Illinois went back to the drawing board. Both states agreed the project was too big and too costly. With money lacking, the solution was to downsize and build the bridge in phases. Ironically, the phase idea was borrowed from the Ohio River Bridges Project.

"The second bridge happens when the funds are there. We would love to be able to build the eight lane bridge right now or both bridges at the same time. That would be great. So the option was do nothing. Or build this," said Horn.

Crews will spend the next few months drilling and installing shafts that will eventually become the bridge's supports.

"Drilling down into the bedrock, this is our test shaft," said Horn.

By next year, Missouri residents could start to part of the bridge come out of the water. By 2014, the I-70 bridge will be finished. In 20 to 25 years from now, transportation officials will re-assess whether a second bridge is necessary.

Horn says he took calls from officials in Louisville about a year ago asking about his project's success. He says he hasn't heard back.

"It might have been RCGA or Metro Planning Organization down in Louisville that was asking some questions about how did you come to this resolution. We had struggled for years and how did you finally come to a resolution on that," said Horn.

The $670 million project was financed with the help of a $238 million federal earmark, something Kentucky and Indiana won't likely receive. Unlike the Ohio River in Louisville, a new bridge will be in place across the Mississippi in the next three years. It will be there without tolls.

A key for the St. Louis project was that federal earmark that Missouri secured in part because the Poplar Street Bridge carries three interstates it's seen as a national security threat, so that bumps up the state's ability to bring in federal dollars.

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