Missouri Department of Transportation officials are seeking feedback after a national environmental policy act has identified a preferred alternative to improve the existing Chester Bridge. The environmental assessment availability was announced in a MoDOT press release April 16.
The detailed study, which took place over several years, can be found at chesterbridge.com. It looked at flooding-related impacts at the river crossing, the cost to improve the bridge’s condition, ways to widen the bridge and how to maintain transportation connectivity within the region.
The project team analyzed a variety of improvement options, including features to widen lanes, add shoulders, include bike/pedestrian access, improve safety and increase transportation accessibility.
In looking at maintenance, rehabilitation and design alternatives, the near upstream alternative was chosen as the preferred route.
The near upstream alternative is preferred over a second option further north for a variety of reasons: it minimizes floodplain configuration impacts, is further downstream from the Perryville airport, reducing potential impacts, impacts fewer wetland acreage (3.2 vs. 4.8 for upstream no. 2), is less expensive ($191 million) than the second upstream plan ($195 million).
Both the first and second upstream options meet U.S. Coast Guard navigation clearance requirements and won’t require the closureof the existing crossing during constuction. In addition, the upstream options eliminate a gap in the levee and offer the shortest construction schedule.
Earlier this month, several individuals involved in the planning process gathered to discuss the bridge.
“We met with city officials over in Chester and also their state senator, then we came over here and met with the (Perry) county commission and city (of Perryville) administrator, mayor, the regional planning person, just updated them,” said State Rep. Dale Wright in an April 16 interview. “This was just about to consider building a road as opposed to just replacing a bridge, do we want to make sure that’s where we want the bridge or not? it looks like that’s where it’s likely to stay.”
Wright said it was an exploratory meeting to discuss what needs to happen with the future bridge.
“One thing we don’t want to have happen is to delay it because it’s in such bad shape,” Wright said. “It’s currently scheduled to begin replacement in 2026, to be finished in 2028. We don’t want to do anything that will harm that date, that timeline. That’s the number one priority. Number two priority is to try to have the least amount of inconvenience for our farmers who are bringing equipment over the bridge, businesses, tractor/trailer trucks, the whole thing, the semis and so on?”
The transportation departments for both the state of Missouri and Illinois work on a prioritization of road improvement projects.
“It’s supposed to be a joint payment,” Wright said. “It was a top priority for replacement. It was our number one in Missouri but not for Illinois. They ended up building a bridge in Louisiana. It still stayed our number one priority.”
Since then, a new Chain of Rocks bridge was built. Wright said the Chester Bridge has not changed in terms of the priority to the state.
“This one is on tap to be the next major bridge project,” he said.
“It’s in horrible shape, everybody agrees with that,” Wright said. “The only rating system I’ve ever heard of is they look at the amount of traffic.”
“It’ll probably be four lanes, but I don’t know that (for sure),” Wright said.
“They’ve already done the environmental studies,” Wright said. “That’s what got people concerned. If we move the bridge, one way or another, north or south, do they have to start all over again (with the studies). We don’t want to have that happen.”
Missouri State Rep. Rick Francis said most of the planning has been completed.
“My understanding is that the site has been chosen and we’re now waiting on Illinois to fund their portion of the bridge,” Francis said. “It is third on Illinois’ list of bridges. You’ve got the Chain of Rocks’ bridge on I-70, you’ve got another bridge Illinois has going into another state.”
Francis confirmed that the projected start date would be the 2026-27 fiscal year.
“We’ll be able to use the old bridge while the new bridge is being constructed,” Francis said. “As far as I know, they did all their studies for Indian burial. I think there was some concern about an Indiana bat.”
There is the possibility of a new, across America highway, according to Francis.
“That would be of great benefit for us to have the bridge that would come across,” he said. “When you have major interstates, you do not want to be stopping at four or five stop signs in town.”
Comments may be submitted online at chesterbridgestudy.com. Participants are also encouraged to contact MoDOT district construction and materials engineer Jason Williams at 573-472-5290 or MoDOT area engineer Brian Okenfuss at 573-258-9144 to share their thoughts.
The deadline to submit comments is Monday, May 17, 2021.