Big milestone as bridge gap closes

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Is it weird to be excited by something as mundane and functional as a new bridge?

If so, call us weird.

And last week those of us who have been intently watching the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge work from the start got a major thrill as we saw the final gap closed. Now, the bridge truly spans the width of the river from Cape Girardeau to Illinois.

It's finally one bridge, as one transportation department official put it.

There was little fanfare last Tuesday when the final steel beam lowered into place, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment. It's been seven years of hard work peppered with delays, and it was truly a watershed moment.

When the existing bridge was finished 75 years ago, whistles sounded. But with the Bill Emerson bridge, there couldn't have been much celebration. Because of temperature concerns, the gap was actually closed at 6 a.m. as barge cranes lowered the two 3,700-pound, 6-foot-long steel girders in place to close the gap. Six o'clock in the morning is not an hour that's exactly conducive to festivities.

Workers did stop working long enough to pose for photos, though. American and Canadian flags were placed atop the final beam, which was also decorated with a banner proclaiming "Iron Workers Local 782, Paducah, Ky.," which had members from the United States and Canada. There were also banners for the Missouri Department of Transportation and Traylor Brothers, the Evansville, Ind., contractor.

Obviously, everyone involved is proud of the project as they should be. When it's finished, it will be the pride of the town. Those who drive it will feel privileged. Hopefully, it will be many years before this bridge feels mundane and only functional.

But there's still work to be done.

The bridge isn't expected to be completed until near the end of the year. Some more deck panels have to be put on, the cables have to be adjusted and grout put in them. A three-inch concrete surface has to be poured across the length of the span. Then electrical work has to be done and lighting added.

There was a cautionary remark made at the bridge last week, however.

Larry Owens, project manager for Traylor Brothers, said that it is "questionable" that the $100 million project will be finished by the end of the year. He noted that the white diagonal pipes that house the steel cables that hold up the main span of the bridge must be grouted. That won't happen until the end of the project, and it can't be done when the temperature is below 45 degrees.

It would be hard to sit through another winter as an all-but-finished bridge sat idle. Let's hope the weather cooperates.

Regardless, last week marked a major milestone for the bridge. But it ranks second to the biggest benchmark of them all -- when the bridge is actually finished and motorists can drive across one of the most exciting projects ever in Cape Girardeau's long history.

We can truly celebrate then.

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