The $222 million project to replace the St. Louis Regional Freightway Merchants Bridge that links Missouri and Illinois near downtown St. Louis is nearing completion, as the third and final new steel bridge truss has been floated into place.
This installation is a crucial phase of the project to replace the bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and is among the U.S.’s primary east-west rail corridors serving one of the largest rail hubs, as measured by car interchange volume and gross tonnage. Dating back to the 1890s, the Merchants Bridge serves six Class I railroads and Amtrak. Replacement of the structure has been the bi-state St. Louis region’s top freight infrastructure priority since 2016.
Owned by Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA), the Merchants Bridge required reconstruction due to speed, clearance and load restrictions. The overall project includes removal and replacement of the three river-span trusses, seismically retrofitting the existing river piers, and improving the east approach. Work began in 2018 and, when completed in the coming weeks, the new double-track span “will provide reliable, resilient and expanded freight and passenger rail capacity, helping move freight faster, cost effectively and more reliably, providing an alternative to more congested rail hubs like Chicago,” TRRA said.
A design-bid-build project, reconstruction of the bridge uses “innovative project delivery methods that have improved safety and speeded completion while limiting bridge and river traffic outages,” TRRA noted. Joining Walsh Construction on the project team are TranSystems and Burns & McDonnell, who are serving as project engineers.
Veritas Steel, Eau Claire, Wisc., fabricated the steel. The new spans were shipped to St. Louis for final assembly on the Missouri bank of the Mississippi River; each has been floated into place immediately after the old spans were floated out. Removal and installation of the three new trusses required three separate 10-day rail and river channel outages. The first of these outages began on Sept. 13, 2021, in preparation for the first truss to be moved into position and floated into place on Sept. 17. The second truss was installed in early March 2022. The final truss was floated into place and installed on Aug. 26 and 27.
“The replacement of this vital rail artery has been identified each year for the past several years as the region’s top freight infrastructure priority by the St. Louis Regional Freightway, which is nationally recognized for its innovative and collaborative approach to creating a Priority Projects List that identifies key infrastructure projects and advocates for funding for them,” the agency said. “In 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded TRRA a $21.45 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant toward replacement of the Merchants Bridge. TRRA is providing 90% of the construction costs, making this project a model for public-private partnerships.”
“In TRRA’s 133-year history helping to ensure the smooth movement of rail freight, our company has never built a bridge, but we’re marking a critical milestone in the final steps to deliver our first major bridge infrastructure project—a project that will dramatically improve the flow of both freight and passenger rail traffic through the bi-state St. Louis region,” said TRRA Chief Legal Officer and Director of Corporate Affairs Asim Raza.
“The Merchants Bridge has been our highest priority project because of its significance in the nation’s freight network,” said Executive Vice President Multi Modal Enterprises, Bi-State Development Mary Lamie. The agency launched the St. Louis Regional Freightway in 2014 to advance infrastructure projects that support the movement of freight through the bi-state St. Louis region. “Its completion will not only strengthen a vital link in the nation’s freight network, it also reaffirms we are on the right path with our approach,” she said.
TRRA provided invited guests and the public the opportunity to see project firsthand from the special vantage point of a riverboat cruise on Aug. 26. Passengers on board witnessed history in the making as
TRRA is a Class III railroad serving more than 75 industrial customers in the St. Louis region and providing interchange services to Class I railroads serving the East and West Coasts and the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. A Bi-State Development enterprise, the St. Louis Regional Freightway is a regional freight district and comprehensive authority for freight operations and opportunities within eight counties in southwestern Illinois and eastern Missouri that comprise the St. Louis metropolitan area.