By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The Terminal Railroad Association is moving forward with its $172 million reconstruction of the Merchants Bridge across the Mississippi River. It’s one of only two rail bridges across the river at St. Louis.
While the bridge that was built in 1889 has two sets of tracks, it is only capable of handling one train at a time, creating a bit of a bottleneck for rail traffic. Asim Raza, TRA’s chief legal officer and director of Corporate Affairs, said that the U.S. Department of Transportation is predicting a 40 percent increase in rail traffic by 2040 and it is important to position St. Louis as an attractive route for that increased traffic.
“It really highlights the importance of having state-of-the-art infrastructure in place that can handle that type of an increase,” Raza said. A new bridge would reduce travel times and costs and allow train companies to use St. Louis as a more effective gateway.
“Right now, St. Louis is the second-most active rail interchange by volume and the third-most active interchange by tonnage in the country. So, it’s a vital part of the freight network. Its fluidity is critical to the national infrastructure,” he said.
Each of the stone piers of the bridge will be encased in concrete to make them capable of withstanding an earthquake. And each of the spans will be replaced over a four-year period. The project has been designed to minimize the impact on bridge traffic. Each of the spans will be built on land near the bridge, moved into place by barge and hoisted into place by crane. Raza said there would only be about 30 days out of four years that the bridge would be closed to traffic.
The project will be funded with a loan and the debt will be repaid with user fees. Preliminary site work is already underway and construction will begin later this fall. Completion is expected in the third quarter of 2022.
“When finished, this is going to be on a much more attractive route for rail carriers,” said Raza.