New bridge - Completion is finally in sight

Friday, June 21, 2002

A project like the new Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge across the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau is a massive and complicated project.

Six years after construction started, the Missouri Department of Transportation says the bridge is on target to be completed by the fall of 2003 -- or just a little more than a year from now.

Bridge work reached another milestone recently when crews started installing the thick cables that will hold up the deck of the bridge.

Unlike most suspension bridges where the deck cables are attached to a larger suspended cable, the Emerson bridge's cables sill go directly from the deck to one of two imposing towers that are visible from miles away.

Each of the cables, in fact, contain as many as 51 strands of 3/4-inch steel. When all of the cables are up, they will form an intricate pattern that will make the bridge visually interesting.

Given the fact that it has taken so long to reach this point in the bridge's construction, it seems almost overly optimistic to think the project will be finished in the next 15 months or so. But highway officials point to significant delays early on that stretched out the first phases of construction, and they say the cabling project will go surprisingly quickly.

Not too many months after the initial bridge contract was awarded, a decision was made to replace the general contractor. That move was made partly because of tests that showed the main pier in the middle of the river was about to be constructed on bedrock that was full of fissures, and the contractor wasn't equipped to fix the problem.

Several more months elapsed before another contractor was picked.

Then it took weeks and weeks to complete an underwater engineering feat of sinking a caisson to the bedrock of the problem pier, filling the fissures and beginning construction of the pier itself. One of the largest continuous concrete pours ever was orchestrated in the early stages of that pier's construction.

Meanwhile, work continues on the approaches to the bridge from both the Illinois and Missouri sides. And another pier closer to the Illinois access still must be constructed.

Motorists who used the old bridge regularly are anxious for the new bridge to be opened. The narrow lanes on the old bridge continue to create close calls as vehicles, including large trucks, pass. The wide four lanes of the new bridge will a quicker and safer crossing of the river.

When the bridge is finished, the next big issue on the minds of many residents of this area will be getting rid of the old structure. For now, though, finishing the new bridge on time will depend on good weather and no more snags like faulty bedrock.

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