ST. LOUIS – Drivers will have to pack some extra patience when they travel a St. Louis interstate during the year. A bridge project on Interstate 44 that was supposed to be completed last month now won’t be finished until the end of this year.
It all started when the Missouri Department of Transportation completed a new bridge near the BNSF rail tracks at I-44 and inspectors noticed some cracks in the concrete. The size of those cracks is about the width of the edge of a credit card.
When those problems were discovered on the new westbound bridge in November MoDOT immediately stopped construction on the eastbound bridge and launched an investigation. The results of that investigation mean longer delays for drivers.
“That’s going to be kind of a nightmare longer nightmare than it already is,” said Ted Parks, who travels Interstate 44 several times a month.
A MoDOT engineer knows what went wrong. It was a design flaw. The completed new bridge couldn’t handle the expansion or contraction caused by hot and cold weather.
“The ends of the bridge cannot accommodate the amount of expansion necessary so that’s put additional force on the concrete, which causes cracking,” said engineer Randy Hitt.
Here’s what they plan to do now: MoDOT will build the eastbound bridge, repair the westbound one, and have everything back open by December 2019. Until then, folks will have to cope with narrower lanes.
“It gets really dicey, sometimes when you’re just driving through it,” said driver John Bui.
Nobody is sure how much the mistake will cost. The bridge was already billed at $16 million.
Nor do we know who will pay for it.
Driver Claudia Bidleman doesn’t think taxpayers should have to pay.
“I don’t think we should be paying. It’s not our fault,” she said.
MoDOT officials said the finished bridge is okay for traffic.
“The report concludes there was enough steel in the bridge to support the traffic but there was not enough to prevent cracking,” said MoDOT District Engineer Tom Blair.
Blair said they will determine who’s responsible for the problems and who has to pay for them later. They want to focus on getting the project completed, although a year late.