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OPINION: Don't sleep on the Chester Bridge project

  • Randolph County Herald Tribune/Steeleville Ledger Managing Editor Pete Spitler

    Randolph County Herald Tribune/Steeleville Ledger Managing Editor Pete Spitler
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By Pete Spitler
Managing Editor
Posted on 12/13/2016, 3:44 PM

To the powers that be,

I am writing to you to make you aware of an initiative by the Missouri Department of Transportation to replace the 75-year-old Chester Bridge, the only Mississippi River crossing between the Jackson Barracks Bridge in south St. Louis and the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge in Cape Girardeau.

The Chester Bridge, named for nearby Chester in Southern Illinois"s Randolph County, is a local landmark that is not only a popular point of crossing for tourists, but also individuals and organizations on charitable causes.

Construction began in 1941 and was completed in 1942, but the bridge was designed to the traffic standards of the time and is too narrow to handle the large loads of today - requiring it to be closed to traffic for every wide load that comes across.

That, as you can imagine, ties up significant law enforcement resources that may be better applied elsewhere. The police departments in the area are small with limited staffing, and closing the bridge detracts - at times - from their mission of to serve and protect.

In my conversations with MoDOT Project Manager Jason Williams, MoDOT hopes to have a contract with the St. Louis office of CH2M by mid-to-late January to perform the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental study.

This study, anticipated to take 24 months (give or take a couple of months), will show MoDOT the best location to place the new bridge, along with alternate locations.

MoDOT has asked Chester Mayor Tom Page to conduct a future town hall meeting on the study and I have been told the local community will be given an opportunity to comment on the project.

MoDOT itself has been very transparent and open about the process, which I feel is vitally important in explaining how the project may potentially affect our readers and all those who use the bridge.

My intention at this point is a desire for all parties involved to work collaboratively on a bridge replacement project that I personally feel is warranted and needed for the future economic development of our region.

While the current bridge stands as an important artifact of a World War II era of perseverance and determination, the evolution of humanity and technology have made it "functionally obsolete" and no longer adequate for the needs of today.

The bridge also serves as a vital link between Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation"s facilities on both sides of the river and the Flood of 1993 and the New Year"s Flood of 2016 required it to be closed due to high water.

That forces employees to spend additional fuel and resources to detour north to St. Louis or south to Cape Girardeau to cross.

Ditto for the employees of TG Missouri, which has a facility in Perryville, with many employees residing in Chester and on the Illinois side of the river.

MoDOT will come out of the environmental study process with a plan and an opportunity. That opportunity is to cross one of the great rivers of our nation and shape the future of regional commerce for generations to come.

I understand that Illinois is in a budget mess and Missouri is too, although not to the same degree as its neighbor across the river.

But this is an opportunity get out in front of something great. Given the current bridge"s age, this could be, quite literally, a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

Don"t sleep on it.

In 1938, the motto of the bridge builders was "It Shall Be Built." Let us all work together to one day make this project a reality and it shall be built - again.

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