Span linking Illinois and St. Louis takes step toward reopening

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

VENICE, Ill. -- The state of Illinois and several county governments in Illinois' St. Louis suburbs will buy McKinley Bridge from the bondholders who own it, clearing the way for renovations and the bridge's eventual reopening, officials said Monday.

Under a tentative agreement, which a court still must approve, the state of Illinois will pay dozens of bondholders about $850,000, or about half of a $1.7 million settlement, said IDOT spokesman Mike Monseur.

The Madison County Transit District and Madison and St. Clair county governments will pay the remaining amount, he said.

In October, IDOT closed the 93-year-old bridge that spans the Mississippi River out of concern it was unsafe.

At the time, some 10,000 cars a day crossed it between St. Louis and Venice, a small, impoverished Metro East town.

But the state declined to start the work necessary to reopen the bridge until the people who held around $4 million in bonds against it received their money.

The city of Venice had bought the bridge in 1958, financing the deal by selling bonds paid for with future toll revenue. The city is nearly broke, and the bonds were never retired.

Under the arrangement announced Monday, IDOT will pay for $40 million in planned renovations, and will split maintenance costs evenly with the state of Missouri after the bridge reopens, which could be as early as 2006.

"Commuters can take heart that (the bridge) will ultimately reopen and offer a safer, toll-free passage across the Mississippi," said Mary Lamie, an IDOT engineer in charge of the Metro East region.

C. Clark Germann, an attorney who represents the bondholders, said his clients weren't thrilled about the payout, even though some have said they stood little chance of recovering any money from the cash-strapped Venice for the bridge.

"It's like any compromise or settlement, normally people paying would have liked to have paid less," Germann said. "People receiving the money would have liked to have received more."

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