Missouri's bridges get extra attention

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Speaking of aesthetically appealing bridges, the Paseo Bridge has graced the Kansas City skyline for more than 40 years. When this suspension bridge opened to link the city's downtown freeways with the fast-growing Clay County area to the north, it not only relieved much of the traffic congestion on Kansas City's bridges over the Missouri River, but also offered a visual landmark.

The Paseo Bridge had to be closed last month after one section of the structure broke and created an unsafe roadway. Repairs were made, and the bridge reopened several days later. The problem prompted the Missouri Department of Transportation to order immediate inspections of 46 highway bridges in Missouri that cross the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Each of the bridges gets an annual inspection. But MoDOT has decided to take extra precautions. Most of the bridges are older than the Paseo Bridge.

Five bridges in Southeast Missouri are subject to the new inspections, including the 74-year-old Mississippi River bridge in Cape Girardeau. However, motorists who use the bridge are already aware that this bridge may be one of the most inspected bridges in the nation.

Throughout the construction of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge, MoDOT has carefully kept tabs of the old bridge not only because it's vital to daily traffic demands, but also because it was used by hundreds of cement-mixing trucks as they hauled their heavy loads to the Illinois side for construction of piers for the new bridge.

Obviously, the old bridge had to be able to carry these loads, and MoDOT officials have been appropriately concerned. But some stopgap structural improvements have made the old bridge even safer for normal traffic. Highway officials assure us the old bridge will be safe until the new bridge opens late this year.

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