Flooding update: Route 54 to close at Champ Clark Bridge

The Champ Clark Bridge. Photo by Adam Thorp.

LOUISIANA – A little more than 90 years ago, Louisiana, Pike County and well-wishers from around the country gathered to mark what was understood to be an epochal moment in the history of the town and the region: the bridging of the Mississippi by the Champ Clark Bridge.

This weekend the new Champ Clark, a replacement for the now geriatric old bridge, will be honored in turn. A more complete picture of Saturday’s ceremony was released last week.

The ribbon-cutting may not actually mark the opening of the bridge to traffic. The actual structure is complete, ahead of the long-promised fall 2019 September date.

The opening hangs on another part of the project — the Illinois approach to the bridge, which is meant to surmount the Sny Levee, allowing the bridge to stay open during flooding that would have closed the old Champ Clark. This stage of the project required removal and reinforcement of the portion of the levee under the roadway, a process that had to wait for flood waters to retreat. The ceremony will go forward regardless of whether the crews currently hard at work on this step of the project complete it by Aug. 3.

Ben Clark, the great-grandson of Champ Clark, for whom the bridge was named, will be the featured speaker Saturday.

Also taking their turns at the lectern: Rep. Sam Graves, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna, Illinois Secretary of Transportation Omer Osman and Massman Construction President Henry J. Massman, whose company has been the lead contractor on the design and construction of the bridge.

Attendees can park at Louisiana High School, where shuttles will pick them up and bring them to the riverfront at 5:15 p.m. Overflow parking will be directed to nearby baseball fields off Kelly Lane. Wheelchair users can be dropped off at the Ayerco gas station at the intersection of Route 54 and 79.

The ceremony will take place on the new bridge, which will open to attendees at 5 p.m.

A cluster of education and enjoyable activities will be clustered around the new bridge during the ceremony, including food vendors and historic automobiles that might have traversed the bridge in its youth.

A video laying out the history of the Champ Clark Bridge will be available ahead of time on champclarkbridge.com.

The ceremony itself will include a performance of the national anthem by Pam Ince and a blessing of the new bridge by Pastor John Kroeze. American Legion Post 370 will hoist the colors.

Pike County residents over 90 years old will be seated in a special section. Those interested should call 573-248-2584 with the number of people in their party.

The original opening of the Champ Clark attracted thousands. Organizers are hopeful that the new bridge will also attract significant crowds.

“We are not sure how many to expect, yet we are prepared for several hundred, and we appreciate everything done by the contractor, the state agencies and these communities to make this a memorable dual-state event,” said MoDOT Project Director of the Champ Clark Bridge Keith Killen in a prepared statement.

The event was planned by a bi-state committee. People including members of that committee, Louisiana city employees and the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce will work to put that group’s into action.

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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