Peering at progress

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

There's no formal lookout over construction of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, but that hasn't stopped area residents who want to get a glimpse of the massive concrete-and-steel structure taking shape on shore and in the river.

Even the recent winter storm that shut down work on the $100 million project didn't deter bridge watchers. Over the lunch hour on Tuesday, five motorists stopped on the Cape Girardeau side to get a view of the structure, its metal deck extending from huge concrete piers and tied to steel cables.

Martin Robinson and his wife, Roberta, of Cape Girardeau drove up to the road-closed barrier on Aquamsi Street to gaze at the unfinished bridge. They stop by the construction site weekly.

Martin Robinson said an overlook area would be nice, but the city could improve the viewing by clearing the brush along the riverfront.

Cape Girardeau County farmer Martin Haupt stopped to view the bridge and eat a sandwich. He said it wouldn't make sense to spend tax dollars to build a lookout.

"The way the economy is going right now, the taxpayers don't want to pay for that," he said.

Unwelcome watchers

Larry Owens, project manager for Traylor Brothers, said some sightseers are a nuisance, driving past street barricades.

"We are worried about somebody getting around the barricades and getting hurt," he said.

Officials with the city of Cape Girardeau, Southeast Missouri State University and the Missouri Department of Transportation say there are no plans to construct a viewing area.

At one time, a viewing spot was suggested as part of planned hiking and biking trails on the grounds of the River Campus on Morgan Oak Street at the foot of the old Mississippi River bridge. The River Campus is a former Catholic seminary that the university wants to develop as a visual and performing arts school.

But Scott Meyer, district engineer for MoDOT in Sikeston, said the agency didn't feel it could secure federal funding for a viewing area to watch construction. Meyer said he's seen little demand for a formal viewing area.

Southeast plans to construct trails, a pavilion overlooking the Mississippi River and a parking lot. But the $319,000 project isn't scheduled to get under way until summer, which doesn't help those who want to watch bridge construction.

University officials hope to have their project completed by November, about the same time Meyer said the bridge should be finished.

Owens, the project manager, said winter storms already have delayed the project and spring flooding could cause further delays that could push the completion date into 2004.

Dr. Pauline Fox, a member of the board of managers for the River Campus project and a former vice president at the university, said people are welcome to view the construction work from the River Campus.

"There are quite a few people who have been down there," Fox said.

335-6611, extension 123

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