Wet weather threatens delays for work on Interstate 64

Monday, July 7, 2008

ST. LOUIS -- Construction on one of the largest highway repair projects in Missouri history is struggling to stay on schedule as workers have had to battle one of the wettest springs in recent memory.

A 5-mile stretch of Interstate 64 in St. Louis currently closed for repair and widening is scheduled to reopen by the end of the year. A second 5-mile stretch is to be completed in 2009.

No matter how the weather behaves -- there have been 80 days of rain or snow in the St. Louis area so far this year, according to the National Weather Service -- those deadlines don't change. That is causing headaches for Gateway Constructors, the team of contractors responsible for the I-64 work.

Some bridge building is ahead of schedule, but laying a new road surface started a month later than expected because of the wet conditions.

"You can still build a bridge after it rains," said Bob Kile of Gateway. "You can't pave a road."

Officials are still optimistic they will reopen the road by the end of the year, but said they could have finished sooner if the weather had cooperated, providing a head start on rebuilding the second half of the project.

The pressure to meet the deadlines is huge as the contractors stand to receive $2 million in incentives. If Gateway goes over, however, the state contract imposes fines of $2,200 a day after Jan. 25 and $24,300 a day after May 31.

Gateway faces the same fines if it fails to open the second 5-mile span of the project by Dec. 31, 2009.

The huge number of rainy or snowy days has forced the contractors to shift gears on 44 work days, rescheduling the moving of dirt, paving or bridge work.

"It's hurt our schedule," said Rob Cheeseman, an engineer with Gateway that tracks the project's invoices, costs and other matters. "We'd be a lot further along right now."

To help make up time, the company recently hired additional workers to help with paving.

The entire project is budgeted at $535 million, with Gateway slated to receive $420 million of that.

But the company has yet to request the state for more money or more time, said Michael Castro, a construction manager for MoDOT.

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