The wheels continue to turn on the Chester Bridge replacement project.
Jason Williams, project manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation, told the Herald Tribune on Tuesday that MoDOT has selected a consultant - CH2M out of St. Louis - to conduct the required environmental study.
"We"re currently in the process of negotiating a contract with them and it"s all by state and federal regulations called Qualification-Based Selection (QBS)," Williams said. "They don"t allow you to discuss cost as far as selecting a consultant, it"s solely based on who can do the job."
Once a consultant has been selected, contract negotiations begin. Williams noted that it"s rare to have a contact dispute with the chosen company.
"Barring some major disagreement with them on cost, (CH2M) will be the ones to perform the study," Williams said.
CH2M, founded in 1946, specializes in solving "global infrastructure challenges" and is led by Chairwoman and CEO Jacqueline Hinman. Hinman received the University of Denver"s International Bridge Builders Award in 2015.
Williams said MoDOT has worked with CH2M on other projects.
"In about a month, we should have this worked out," he said. "It"s a formal agreement, which requires our highway commission to approve it to move forward.
"Once they have approval, (CH2M) are free to work on the study."
The environmental study will show MoDOT the best place to construct the new bridge, along with alternate locations.
Other agencies such as the Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also weigh in during the roughly 24-month process.
"That"s the point of this study, we don"t know where the bridge is going," Williams said. "We need to determine from this study where the best spot would be for the bridge.
"There"s different things to consider and that"s what this study will do. You have to weigh each one of those and see which is the most desirable place to put this structure."
Williams said MoDOT will be reaching out to the local communities for input and historical significance will also be considered in the study.
"That"s something that the consultant will research and look at and see how that affects the community," Williams said, when asked about the fate of the Chester Welcome Center and the Popeye Statue. "The community would have time to offer comment."
The 75-year-old Chester Bridge is the only Mississippi River crossing between the Jefferson Barracks Bridge on the south side of St. Louis and the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau.
Both of those bridges are newer than the Chester Bridge, which has become a favorite point of crossing not only for tourists, but also for various organizations and individuals on charitable causes.
"This is an exciting process for me as well and I"ve never been on a major project of this size or a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) study of this magnitude because most of our projects don"t require an environmental study," Williams said. "We don"t cross the Mississippi River too many times in our career."