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Waiting on the water

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

The flooded Mississippi River has idled about 100 construction workers, leaving them waiting for the water level to drop enough for construction to resume on the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge at Cape Girardeau.

The bridge project has been shut down for 10 days and won't start back up until next week at the earliest, said Larry Owens, project manager for Traylor Brothers Inc., the construction contractor.

"Right now, we are looking at getting back to work the Tuesday after Memorial Day," he said.

The May flooding, coupled with previous floods, has pushed back completion of the $100 million bridge project by about three months, from June 2003 to mid-September of next year.

Stan Johnson, Missouri Department of Transportation area engineer, said the bridge contract allows for construction deadline extensions every time it floods.

"The river will have to get down below flood stage before they can get back out and do anything in the river," Johnson said.

When they do get back on the job, a top priority will be construction work on the concrete pier taking shape in the middle of the river.

Installation of the steel cables that will be strung diagonally from the concrete towers to the bridge deck should begin in June, he said.

Traylor Brothers, hired to construct the main span at a cost of $53.7 million, has been working on the project since June 2000.

Owens said the project has been delayed by flooding several times, but this has been the worst.

"We lost all of our access from the Illinois bank," he said. "Our access roads are under several feet of water."

Those roads are used to deliver concrete and other materials, which are then taken by barge to Pier 3 in the middle of the river.

Owens said the Illinois side is used as a staging area for loading construction barges because the Missouri side is too close to the river's navigational channel. "The potential for getting hit by a river tow would be much more likely on the Missouri side," he said.

Even if the contractor could get the materials to Pier 3, the swift current in the flooded river would hamper construction work. "It is so difficult to hold barges in position correctly," Owens said.

The project has been shut down since May 10. The river crested at 45.7 feet on Sunday, 13.7 feet above flood stage and only 2.8 feet below the record level of 48.5 feet recorded on Aug. 8, 1993.

By 10 a.m. Monday, the river had dropped to 44.5 feet on the Cape Girardeau gauge and was expected to fall to 35.5 feet by Saturday. The river floods at 32 feet on the gauge.

By early next week, the river should be low enough for work to resume, Owens said. "It will take us several days to get things cleaned up and everything back where we can work efficiently," he said.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123


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