With recent I-270 repaving work, construction season upshifts to next gear

By Charles Bolinger, charles.bolinger@hearst.com for thetelegraph.com

Road construction ramped up in June with the Illinois Department of Transportation’s announcement that Interstate 270 was reduced to one lane between Illinois 3 and the I-55, I-70 and I-270 interchange.

The work during the first three weeks of June is the first phase of a much larger repaving project planned after the Independence Day weekend.

On May 21, St. Louis Regional Freightway issued its 2021 Priority Freight Projects on major area infrastructure projects that will benefit commuters, companies, transportation officials and visitors.

The I-270/I-255 outer belt is one of the region’s most traveled freight corridors. Per the 2016 East-West Gateway Congestion Report, segments of 270 in St. Louis and Madison counties were labeled as, “severe bottlenecks.”

This color-coded map shows the different construction projects either in progress or planned for the Interstate 270 corridor between I-70 in northwest St. Louis County and Illinois 157 in Madison County. The price tag for the entire 24-mile stretch is $1.2 billion. Photo: Courtesy Of St. Louis Regional Freightway

According to Freightway, bi-state cooperation on I-270 improvements from I-70 in northwest St. Louis County to Route 157, or 24 miles, will cost $1.2 billion. Work in Missouri began in April with the closure of an off-ramp then in June accelerated with a Lindbergh Boulevard to I-270 ramp closure and the removal of the Old Halls Ferry overpass. Next will be intersection closures at Dunn and Pershall roads and the removal of the Washington/Elizabeth overpass. Missouri’s portion of the project should be done by Dec. 1, 2023.

Frieghtway calls I-270 a key logistics corridor with more than 18 million square feet of new industrial space in the past five years as manufacturers, suppliers and distributors have discovered or expanded into the St. Louis regional market.

This spring, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), submitted an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant application for $40 million to complete its portion of the 270 Project from Highway 367 to the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

The state transportation agencies also will cooperate on the new Chain of Rocks Bridge, replacing two bridges built in 1966. The bridges have seen traffic volume rise from 19,800 in 1975 to almost 45,000 in 2020; 17 percent of today’s volume is trucks.

Both state transportation entities announced $223 million in funding for the bridge two years ago, but construction is not expected to start until 2023 or 2024.

Of all the Mississippi River bridges at St. Louis, only the Eads Bridge (opened in 1874) is older than the Merchants Bridge, which was finished in 1890. The bridge is the link between eastern and western rail freight, it carries more than 40 gross tons every year and serves six Class I railroads.

Currently two trains cannot pass each other on the bridge due to load restrictions. Reconstruction of the 130-year old bridge began in 2018. Planned work includes removing and replacing three river-span trusses, seismically retrofitting the existing river piers and improving the east approach.

“In terms of the Merchants Bridge, it’s one of the main east-west rail corridors in the region. It’s an absolute vital artery in order to maintain efficient rail movement across the Mississippi River,” commercial manager at Watco Terminal and Port Services, Ryan Krull said.

This region is the second largest freight rail interchange location in the nation and the third largest freight rail interchange location by tonnage. The project is fully funded and the Terminal Railroad Association (TRRA) of St. Louis received $21.5 million in Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements to cover 10 percent of the bridge’s cost. TRRA is covering the rest of the $222 million price tag.

The new double-track structure will provide additional capacity for increased freight and passenger rail.

Two years ago, the Illinois Competitive Freight Program poured $17 million into revamping the Route 111 interchange at I-270. Last fall, IDOT announced another $84.5 million to make 270 six lanes from the Chain of Rocks to west of Route 203. This money also includes a reconstruction of the Route 3/I-270 interchange and the Route 111 and Chain of Rocks Road intersection.

To bookend what happened in Missouri, this spring, IDOT submitted its own INFRA application for $33 million to unclog the freight bottleneck from the river to 111. MoDOT wrote a letter of support for the project.

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