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In the rough: Work underway on the new Champ Clark Bridge in Louisiana includes diamond grinding to prepare the road surface. Above, a truck exchanges water for the slurry produced by the diamond-grinding process Saturday morning. The work on the bridge has entered its final stages and the date for its ribbon-cutting has been set — but whether the bridge will be ready is still in doubt.

LOUISIANA – The next week will determine whether the new Champ Clark Bridge will be open by its ribbon-cutting on Aug. 3.

“If the river doesn’t go down and cooperate like it was anticipated to [do] next week, I don’t think we can make the ribbon-cutting. Its just not going to happen,” MoDOT Deputy Project Director Brandi Baldwin  said Saturday.

That’s because crews will not be able to complete the new Illinois approach to the bridge until the Sny levee — which the new approach will fly over — is no longer actively keeping floodwaters at bay.

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Vistas: Missouri Department of Transportation Deputy Project Director Brandi Baldwin walked attendees through her team’s progress, with the new Champ Clark Bridge in the background. Photo by Adam Thorp

If the waters fall far enough, Massman Construction and its sub-contractors can get to work demolishing the relevant section of levee and the last major hurdle to the completion of the project with it.

The obstacle high waters posed to their efforts to summit the levee has been a regular feature of the monthly public updates given by Massman and the Missouri Department of Transportation since the waters began to rise. Saturday’s update focused in on the issue.

It was held just a day after MoDOT announced they would hold the ribbon-cutting for the new bridge on Aug. 3 whether or not the bridge was ready to open to traffic on that date.

MoDOT said the chosen date would allow Benjamin Clark, the great-grandson of the bridge’s namesake, to attend the ceremony.

Massmann needs to replace the sand that currently makes up that part of the levee with clay that is better able to support the weight of the road. The river, still several feet above the threshold for minor flooding as of Tuesday afternoon, has not yet cooperated.

“As most of you know, the high water’s not been  really kind to us, so we didn’t get a lot done last month, especially on the Illinois side,” Baldwin  said. “So that’s what our big push for the next month is going to be.”

“Our hope is to have it all wrapped up by the end of the month, if the river will cooperate with us. You all do all of your anti-rain dances and help me out there,” Baldwin added.

Massman Project Engineer Josh Hanrahan said the team would probably need at least a few weeks of low water to get the work done.

“We’re working with our subcontractor to get it done as quickly as possible,” Hanrahan said.

The Illinois approach to the old Champ Clark Bridge cuts through the levee, forcing a closure of the bridge before the rising water reaches the gap in the levee.

The new, higher approach was designed to avoid those closures — a source of major inconvenience for people traveling between Illinois and Missouri for work.

One attendee who had staked out a position at the Illinois side of the bridge while it was closed said an average of 85 people walked across — an inconvenient commute, but preferable to the long round trip to still-open bridges up- and down-stream.

As they waited for flood waters to receded, workers finished the process of adding barriers to either side of the bridge in June.

A three-quarter inch layer of polyester-polymer concrete still needs to be laid, completing the driving surface of the bridge.

Work was underway on the surface of the bridge even as the presentation went forward, with a tanker exchanging water for a slurry produced by diamond-grinding of the roadway’s surface.

The presence of Massman and MoDOT on the Louisiana riverfront will diminish as the project nears completion. MoDOT’s facilities have already been consolidated with Massman’s because of flood-related mold — another twist in the project introduced by the temperamental river.

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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