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9-month delay in blowup of old bridge requested

Friday, October 24, 2003

Cape Girardeau's old Mississippi River bridge will come crashing down, but the date of its demise may be delayed.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has requested the U.S. Coast Guard approve a nine-month extension, which would move the deadline for the estimated $3.88 million demolition from May 20, 2004, to Feb. 20, 2005.

Coast Guard officials said the request could be approved by the end of November or early December. The Coast Guard is taking public comments on the proposal through Nov. 17.

MoDOT officials said the agency can't begin the process of hiring a demolition contractor until the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge opens to traffic. The new four-lane span is scheduled to be completed in December.

MoDOT requested a nine-month extension just to be on the safe side in case there are more project delays, said Eric Krapf, MoDOT project manager in Sikeston. He said MoDOT doesn't want to have to ask for a second extension.

Krapf said the demolition work includes more than explosives and will take several months. The contractor will have to remove the bridge deck first, and take out the road approaches on both sides of the river. Trees will be planted along the Illinois shore as a part of wetlands mitigation work, he said.

When the construction permit for the new bridge was issued seven years ago, MoDOT officials had expected the bridge to be open by now.

But bedrock problems and a change in contractors pushed back completion.

Even if the December deadline is met, it still could take months to get the demolition project bid, a contract awarded by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission and the contractor in position to begin the work.

Both Krapf and Coast Guard bridge administrator Roger Wiebusch in St. Louis said Thursday that they expect the 75-year-old span to be demolished next year.

"A lot of this depends on the weather and flooding conditions," Krapf said.

When the old bridge is blown up, the Coast Guard plans to shut down river traffic at Cape Girardeau to traffic for 24 hours to allow for removal of the debris.

The Coast Guard permit to build the new bridge, issued in 1996, includes the requirement that the old bridge be torn down for barge traffic safety reasons.

Barge traffic would have difficulty navigating between piers from two bridges only a short distance apart, Coast Guard officials said.

"It is not going to change our drive to get the bridge out as soon as possible," Wiebusch said of the proposed deadline extension.

Civic leaders said they'll work around any delay when it comes to a contest tied to the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge celebration in which a winner can choose to throw a switch to blow up the old bridge.

"Obviously, we will roll with their schedule," said John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce.

Mehner said such a delay wouldn't detract from any celebrations regarding the opening of the new bridge.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


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