August 2019 meeting of the Hwy. 54 Coalition

Pike County Economic Development Executive Director Carolyn Wisecarver and Audrain County Commissioner Steve Hobbs at the August meeting of the Hwy. 54 Coalition.

LOUISIANA – A new bid for federal money for a new lane on Hwy. 54 includes a proposal to lay broadband as part of the construction process

The application for a BUILD grant from the federal Department of Transportation was filed in July. Members of the Hwy. 54 Coalition heard about the application at their monthly meeting Thursday.

“A lot of the successful applications from last year had a broadband piece to that,” Samantha Diffenderfer, a community and transportation planner for the Mark Twain Council of Governments said. “We figured if we have to put $500,000 towards broadband and we get $24.5 million in exchange than its a worthwhile investment.”

The grant application emphasizes a lower rate of Internet access in areas that would be effected by the project.

The application calls for money to add a third lane a section of Hwy. 54, creating a “shared four lane” with alternate passing zones. The coalition ultimately hopes to build up the whole stretch of Hwy. 54 between Mexico, Mo. and Pittsfield, Ill.

Any one project can get as much as a $25 million through the BUILD program in 2019. The $900 million in funding appropriated by Congress has to be split evenly between rural and urban areas.

The bid is a joint effort between Pike County Mo. and Audrain County. A 2018 application through the same program received no funding.

Traffic off old Champ Clark shortly

Last week’s meeting of the coalition took place at Massman Constructions offices at the Louisiana riverfront, in the midst of the almost completed Champ Clark Bridge replacement. That project represents a huge investment in Hwy. 54, and the coalition heard from Massman and MoDOT about the progress on the remaining parts of the project.

After the new bridge opened in early August the old bridge remained in use to allow drivers to access the marina on the Illinois side of the river. The first order of business after the ribbon-cutting was to tie in the marina to the new bridge approach, allowing the almost-century old bridge to finally close to traffic

“We continue to make good progress. We’re expecting the old Bridge to be demolished later this fall,” MoDOT Northeast District assistant district engineer Kevin James said.

Massman Project Manager T.J. Columbatto told the group that the new entrance  to the marina would probably open this week, with a rock surface leading to the Marina until asphalt can be laid. The final alignment will be laid by Sept. 15, Columbatto said.

As soon as the old bridge is closed, Columbatto said, work will begin preparing the old bridge for demolition.

They’ll start by milling off the asphalt so it does not fall into the river as the bridge is taken apart, a process that should start this week.

After that, the team will need to strengthen one of the trusses over the railroad tracks that run under the Champ Clark bridge along the Mississippi riverfront. That will allow them to remove that section of the bridge dropping it onto the bridge.

“It will be quite the sight to see. We will take out some pretty large chunks with a water-based crane. The last piece will be a little over half the length of the truss,” Columbatto said. “It will be quite an event.”

The other spans over the river will be removed with explosives and picked out of the rivers with cranes for scrap. The piers in the river will then be removed.

As of last week, Massman was still considering its options for removing the portions of the bridge over land.

“We’ll be out of here, everything goes well, by the end of the year,” Columbatto said.

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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