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Report: Tolls wouldn't cover funding gaps for new bridge


By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO –

A new report being released today (Wednesday) says not even tolls would cover the gap in funding that currently exists for a new Mississippi River bridge north of downtown St. Louis.

KWMU was among the few media to obtain an advanced copy of the report.

The East-West Gateway Council asked outside experts to study the options. The panel doesn't totally rule out tolls, though. It just notes its uncertainty that they would fill funding gaps in this case, given all the free bridges nearby.

"In the panel's view, while there are many toll bridges (existing and under development) in the United States, there are no comparable situations where a new toll bridge is being developed in close proximity to multiple parallel free bridges," the report said.

The report also says the idea of a so-called 'coupler' bridge next to the King bridge has merit, but neither bridge plan was endorsed outright.

Illinois has says the coupler, which would create two spans at the King bridge that each carry traffic in the opposite direction, is a cheaper option.

Missouri has pushed for a bigger bridge with tolls north of the Edwards Jones Dome, but Illinois opposes tolls. Cost estimates for the bigger bridge range from $1-2 billion.

Either bridge option, the report notes, is still about two years off, given the further study and approval needed from various levels of government.

That's why the panel takes great pains in its report to note that further delay by regional leaders could soon make any option impossible: "Every additional month adds to project cost escalation, while continuing to impose delay and safety costs on commuters, truckers, shippers, and others who travel in the St. Louis core area."

One option listed in the report is for each state keep studying and pursuing both bridges, and make a final decision on which to build in about two years. Doing that would prevent delays if one option is suddenly deemed universally as unrealistic.

Still, the panel says some measures can be taken now, regardless of which bridge will be built. Those include accelerating improvements to the Poplar Street Bridge (where the current 20-mph exit ramps to I-55 and I-44 reduce traffic capacity by 15-25%) and finding ways to increase traffic on the Eads Bridge, which the panel calls "extremely underutilized."

The experts also note that the McKinley Bridge, which is scheduled to re-open this fall, should not go unnoticed and be better incorporated in future traffic predictions when measuring the need for a new bridge. They note regional leaders should not think so much in terms of the bridges as separate, but rathers as part of a "system" of crossings at St. Louis.


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