MoDOT orders inspections of bridges

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Five Mississippi River bridges in Southeast Missouri will get new inspections as the Missouri Department of Transportation seeks to make sure that its major bridges over the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are safe for motorists.

Those spans include the aging Mississippi River bridge at Cape Girardeau, which in recent years has been subject to quarterly inspections, said Scott Meyer, MoDOT district engineer in Sikeston, Mo.

The others in Southeast Missouri region are the U.S. 60 span and Interstate 57 bridge both at Cairo, Ill., the Chester, Ill., span and the bridge at Caruthersville.

"They have all been inspected within the last year," Meyer said.

Missouri's transportation department is inspecting dozens of bridges over the Mississippi and Missouri rivers around the state in response to faults found recently in a Kansas City bridge.

So far, the state has inspected just seven bridges but already has discovered problems that caused some of the lanes to be closed on the eastbound Blanchette Bridge, which carries Interstate 70 traffic over the Missouri River between St. Louis and St. Charles counties.

The Paseo Bridge, one of the main corridors into downtown Kansas City, was closed Jan. 22 after a fractured metal plate caused one section of the bridge to rise about 8 inches above another section. It reopened Saturday.

The widespread inspections are "just a good precautionary measure," Don Hillis, director of operations for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said Wednesday. "We're going to go the extra step to make sure bridges are safe, but I don't expect us finding any other major problems."

The 74-year-old Cape Girardeau bridge crossing the Mississippi River will be replaced by a new bridge under construction. The old bridge went through repairs last September after a routine inspection revealed that some of the steel connections between various bridge beams had deteriorated.

The five spans are among 49 bridges that will be scrutinized under the plan announced Wednesday. MoDOT maintains 36 of the spans. Other states maintain the remaining 13. They include the two bridges at Cairo, which are maintained by Illinois, and the bridge at Caruthersville, which is maintained by Tennessee.

MoDOT hopes to complete inspections of the 36 bridges it maintains by early May. MoDOT plans to work with adjoining states to get the other 13 major river bridges inspected.

No timetable for repairs on the five bridges has been set yet, Meyer said

"Basically, we're making sure we go back and check for any cracking," Meyer said. He doesn't believe any new problems will surface with the Southeast Missouri bridges.

"We don't expect to find anything, but we would rather be safe and do the extra inspections."

The federal government requires bridges to be inspected every two years, although Missouri inspects many of its bridges once a year.

MoDOT officials said it typically takes a week to do an in-depth inspection of a major river bridge. MoDOT currently has two crews handling inspections but is adding another to expedite the process.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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