Two westbound lane closures on the Poplar Street Bridge have caused a headache for Illinois and Missouri commuters this week, doubling commute times for some.
The closures come on top of the full shutdown of MLK Bridge at the end of August, compounding traffic congestion. The lanes on the Poplar Street Bridge will remain closed through early October while the Missouri Department of Transportation replaces a joint in a bridge.
Jack Thompson travels from St. Jacob, Illinois, to work off of South Kingshighway in St. Louis. He said when he first began commuting the route about a year ago, the roads were wide open. He said that changed this week.
“It’s just total chaos now. As you’re coming down 55, 70, you can see all the traffic backed up on the Stan Musial bridge,” Thompson said. “It’s just a mad mess, really. It’s just really, really slow.”
Officials from both the MoDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation held a joint press conference on Thursday morning to address traffic issues.
“We recognize that this a huge inconvenience to everybody,” said Joel Cumby, an engineer with the Illinois Department of Transportation. “IDOT and MoDOT have coordinated on this for several months, and unfortunately they did need to overlap at this point.”
Cumby said the structure that carries vehicles to and from the MLK Bridge was in a “highly deteriorated state and needed to be completely removed and replaced.” The MLK Bridge will be closed for a year.
He stressed that the two transportation departments had communicated but that IDOT had to start work on the MLK Bridge entrance before MoDOT was done with its work on the Poplar Street Bridge.
Michelle Forneris, an engineer with MoDOT, agreed the work couldn’t be delayed.
“MoDOT and IDOT coordinate to minimize overall impacts, but sometimes that work does overlap each other,” she said. “Anytime we close lanes on an interstate, we do anticipate delays, and we do encourage the public to choose options that best suit their commute times.”
With fewer choices to get across the river from Illinois, drivers are being shunted onto alternate routes on the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, Interstate 255, and Interstate 270, increasing volumes on those roadways.
That’s meant that even commuters who don’t cross the river are experiencing heavier traffic.
Mike Coop travels from his home in Ballwin to the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis for work. He said his 35-minute commute has stretched to 55 minutes or more since the lanes were closed this week.
“A lot of the traffic is getting diverted to 255 from the Illinois side, so we’re all coming together on I-55 north, and it’s just a slog; I mean, it is so slow,” he said.
The congestion is contributing to more careless driving as commuters grow impatient, according to Coop. He said he’s seen drivers try to get in front of others before lanes merge.
“You know, at times, it’s a free for all,” he said. “That part of it is probably the worst and the most dangerous."
MoDOT and IDOT have encouraged commuters to find alternate methods of transportation or adjust the time they are commuting, but for Thompson it’s not a desirable option.
“I had originally thought, 'Well, I could always go across the Stan Musial Bridge and go down to Tucker and kind of shoot down Tucker ‘til I get down to 44 and kind of head down that way.' But honestly, that bridge is more backed up than the Poplar Street Bridge,” said Thompson.
He added, “I don’t know whether it was IDOT or MoDOT — probably them working together — who decided it was a good idea to take the King bridge down while they’re still doing work on the Poplar bridge, but I don’t think that was very thought out.”
MoDOT said there will be two more full eastbound closures on the Poplar Street Bridge, scheduled for weekends before the end of the year, and one additional partial three-week closure in the westbound direction.
IDOT also added, the westbound I-55 and I-64 ramps near the MLK Bridge will undergo four weekend closures. The first weekend closure begins this weekend. Roads will close near the bridge at 8 p.m. Friday and are set to reopen at 5 p.m. Sunday, before the baseball game
Follow Abigail on Twitter @AbigailCensky