SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Tim Martin, State Representative Jay Hoffman and several other Metro East legislators today formally unveiled plans for a new, more affordable alternative to reduce traffic congestion crossing the Mississippi River. The Governor proposed building a four-lane bridge alongside the existing Martin Luther King Bridge. The bridge, and other associated work, is expected to cost between $410-$450 million. The new plan is a more affordable alternative to building a new, eight-lane bridge across the Mississippi – which is expected to cost $910 million.
Illinois earmarked $300 million for the Mississippi River Bridge project and the federal transportation bill includes $239 million. Missouri officials have expressed interest in a public-private partnership to build the bridge – but such a partnership would result in tolls. If a project does not move forward by the end of the year, the region is in jeopardy of losing the $239 million in federal funds.
“We need to build more lanes across the Mississippi River to make it easier for Illinois residents to get to work every day, and we can and should do it without charging tolls. It just isn’t right to ask the people of Illinois to pay $2 or $3 every time they cross the river – especially when we have other options. That’s why I directed the Illinois Department of Transportation to explore realistic and affordable alternatives adding traffic capacity over the Mississippi. Building a new four-lane bridge parallel to the Martin Luther King Bridge can provide the congestion relief drivers need, and we can use existing federal and state funds to build the bridge without charging tolls. In the coming weeks and months, I hope we can continue to work with the State of Missouri to make a non-toll bridge a reality so we can help drivers on both sides of the river and continue regional economic growth,” said Governor Blagojevich.
“The bottom line is we need to do something to ensure that the people in this region don’t have to continue to suffer the headaches and frustration of bottlenecks and traffic. This is a quality of life issue for citizens in the Metro East. We owe it to them to act and if we don’t act soon we jeopardize the federal funding,” said Illinois House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Hoffman (D-Collinsville).
"As I have said many times before, I am opposed to a toll on the new bridge. Given Missouri's refusal to contribute any funds to this project, I have worked with Governor Blagojevich, State Representative Jay Hoffman and other Illinois officials to provide a reasonable alternative. The Martin Luther King Coupler is the best alternative. It is affordable, it can be completed in a reasonable time frame, and it can be fully paid for without tolls," said Congressman Jerry Costello (D-Illinois).
The alternative to the proposed 8-lane cable-stayed New Mississippi River Bridge and associated roadways is building an "MLK Bridge Coupler.” This concept utilizes the existing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge along with a new parallel structure as a means to improve river-crossing capacity with available funding. Preliminary analyses indicate that the proposed Martin Luther King Bridge Coupler could convert the existing structure to an eastbound bridge providing three 12 foot lanes and carrying Interstate 70 traffic east (versus the 8 lanes on the existing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge) while the new structure could be a westbound bridge with four 12 foot lanes.
Additional benefits include: providing additional interstate river crossing in a core area, redistributing regional traffic, reducing traffic on other core area river bridges, and improving visibility for and access to the Edward Jones Dome and the Pinnacle Casino in St. Louis.
Early recommendations for roadway work associated with the bridge improvements include direct ramps to Interstate 70 in St. Louis and to existing I-55/70 in East St. Louis. The preliminary range of cost is from $410 million to $450 million. It is anticipated that this project could be completed by 2013.
A new Mississippi River crossing is desperately needed to address dwindling cross-river capacity in the St. Louis and Metro East area. In the 1960’s, there were 22 lanes connecting the two sides, today there are only 16. New capacity is needed to allow for economic growth to continue, to reduce congestion and to improve safety.
The effort to build a new crossing was launched in 1992 when Illinois and Missouri began preliminary design and an effort to pinpoint a location for a new Mississippi River crossing. This resulted in the proposed construction of an eight-lane crossing that would cost $1.6 billion. To date, Illinois has spent $80 million for preliminary engineering and land acquisition for the project.
In 2005, the two states announced that due to the escalating costs of the crossing, they would begin a process of re-evaluating and scaling back the design in order to come up with a project that could be built in the near future. This re-evaluation process included a series of public hearings on both sides of the river and led to a new design that would cost $910 million.
However, the two states have not been able to agree on how the project would be funded. Gov. Blagojevich and Illinois leaders have insisted that the project should be built using state and federal funds. The Governor believes that a toll would have a disproportionate impact on Illinoisans, since far more people travel from the Metro East area to jobs on the Missouri side of the river than from Missouri to Illinois.
In order to ease cross-river congestion in the short-run, Gov. Blagojevich has secured $45 million to refurbish and re-open the now shuttered McKinley bridge. This will provide an additional lane in each direction when the project is complete in Fall 2007.