An exciting time for bridge watchers

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

For some motorists who regularly cross the Mississippi River on Cape Girardeau's bridge that is nearly three-quarters of a century old, it's hard to believe work on the new bridge has been going on for nearly seven years. For others, however, the completion of the $100 million Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge can't come a day too soon.

The bridge project has seen its share of delays. The biggest one came when work on one of the main piers in the middle of the river was stopped after cracks in the bedrock were discovered.

But since work resumed in earnest, the bridge has gone up pretty much on schedule. Missouri Department of Transportation officials say the bridge is expected to be completed by the end of the year, barring unforeseen problems -- which, on a project of this scope, might be expected.

As the cable stays -- the steel web that will hold up the bridge deck -- are put in place, more and more curious onlookers vie for the best viewing point to watch the construction progress. Aquamsi Street, which goes along the river and under both the old bridge and the new bridge, is barricaded near the construction site. But motorists still drive as far as they can to get a good look before making a U-turn.

A lot of curious bridge watchers would appreciate a designated parking area from which to watch the construction. Suggestions include marking a viewing area on Aquamsi with a turnaround, the parking lot of the former St. Vincent Seminary or the new stretch of Highway 74 that will connect with the Emerson bridge when it's completed.

Some of the sidewalk superintendents for the new bridge are in the habit of crossing the old bridge for a good look at the entire project. But most motorists know the risks of taking your eyes off the narrow lanes of the old bridge, which means the best view is for passengers only.

What visitors to the construction site today see is the start of what promises to be visual masterpiece of bridge design. As cable stays radiate from the two tall piers, the bridge desk progresses farther and farther.

A high point for onlookers will be as the decking meets in the middle of the river. If construction stays on schedule, that's not too far off -- and, for some regular bridge users, a welcome milestone.

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