The Missouri Department of Transportation appears to be making the first step toward possibly replacing the nearly 74-year-old Chester Bridge.
MoDOT shares the cost of maintenance and repair of the bridge - which connects Missouri Route 51 with Illinois State Route 150 - with the State of Illinois, but Missouri is the lead state on it.
"You have to do some studies and go through the the environmental processes to go through where to place the bridge and walk through that process," said MoDOT Southeast District Engineer Mark Shelton. "We are going to be working toward hiring a consultant to help us figure out all those questions."
Shelton said that during the evaluation process, which will also include a feasibility study, local input on both sides of the Mississippi River would be considered.
"When you"ve got a river bridge that"s been there for 70-some years, there"s the idea of when it gets old enough, do you replace it or not?" Shelton said.
"I think it"s a pretty easy question to answer, absolutely that bridge needs to be replaced."
Completed in 1942 at a cost of more than $1.3 million (in 1942 dollars), the bridge opened on August 23, 1942 and operated as a toll bridge until 1989.
A severe thunderstorm with tornadic wind force caused the two main spans to drop into the river on July 29, 1944. The bridge was reconstructed and reopened two years later.
In previous inspection reports, the bridge was declared "functionally obsolete," meaning it is no longer functionally adequate due to an outdated design.
"We"re going in the next few months to put out a request for proposal," Shelton said. "It"s going to take 18 months to two years to get that worked on."
The bridge - the only Mississippi River crossing for car traffic between Cape Girardeau and south St. Louis - is also a tourist attraction as much as it is a transportation asset.
The bridge"s image adorns many promotional items distributed by the City of Chester and its Beautification/Tourism Commission.
During Monday"s meeting of the Commission, Chester Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Sympson said several MoDOT officials have recently visited the Chester Welcome Center and asked questions about the bridge.
"As they progress, they hope to come to Chester to talk about it," Sympson said.
Shelton was asked about bridge design and how tourism and traffic volume generally factor into it.
"All of those things have to be factored in," he said. "It"s a structure that, when we get done with it, would ideally be there for a hundred years.
"As those things are considered, you have to put a price tag on it."
Shelton noted that money has not yet been set aside for the project and that the State of Illinois will have to help coordinate some funding when the time for replacement comes.
"We"ll have to see how funding goes and where that lays out as far as replacing the bridge," he said. "I guess what I"m saying is we"re not going to have a new bridge in three years, this is just step one."
Shelton said he hopes to have more information on the process in the next three to four months.
"By then, we"ll either have, or close to selecting, the folks that are going to help us," he said.