ST. LOUIS -- The McKinley bridge between St. Louis and southern Illinois is scheduled to reopen this fall, and communities are hoping increased traffic will bring new economic opportunities.
The rebuilt span is slated to open Sept. 25, after it closed in 2001. The bridge will have two lanes for vehicles and additional outside lanes to carry bicycles and pedestrians. It will not have tolls, as it had in the past.
That's good news for officials in southern Illinois communities like Granite City, Madison and Venice.
"How much of an impact will it have? In a word, 'huge,"' said Jonathan Ferry, Granite City's economic development director. "It's huge to us, in terms of connectedness to St. Louis, in terms of increased business and so much more."
The Illinois Department of Transportation projects that almost 14,000 cars will use the bridge daily, meaning thousands of people at least passing through an area that has struggled in recent years. City officials envision Illinois Highway 3, which connects directly to the bridge, developing into a commercial corridor.
Venice Mayor Avery Ware said a Chicago developer is looking to build stores; Madison has been buying up property for future construction along its main thoroughfare, and Granite City is planning a downtown arts, entertainment and loft district just blocks from Route 3.
Officials hope drivers will fill up their gas tanks, dine and shop in the three cities. The bridge also is expected to provide a needed crossing of the Mississippi for residents of Madison County, Ill., when construction and traffic snarl the downtown bridges.
A groundbreaking was held Friday for a new park at the eastern end of the bridge in Venice, Ill. The Chamber of Commerce of Southwestern Madison County raised more than $600,000 for the park and a giant steel sculpture, made up of intersecting rings set atop eight columns.