Merchants Bridge Reconstruction Project Reaches Major Milestone

Merchants Bridge Reconstruction Project Reaches Major Milestone
September 20, 2021 Jerry Vallely
Riverboat Cruise Provides Opportunity to View Installation of the First of Three New Trusses on the Merchants Bridge

Riverboat Cruise Provides Opportunity to View Installation of the First of Three New Trusses

The $222 million project to replace the Merchants Bridge that links Missouri and Illinois at Downtown St. Louis reached a major milestone Friday, Sept. 17, with the first one of three new trusses being installed. Dating back to 1890, the Merchants Bridge serves six Class I railroads and Amtrak to cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis and is one of the nation’s primary east-west rail corridors serving the nation’s second largest rail hub by car interchange volume and third largest by gross tonnage. The replacement of this vital rail artery is the bi-state St. Louis region’s top freight infrastructure priority.

Owned by Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA), the Merchants Bridge required reconstruction due to the speed, clearance and load restrictions. The project includes the 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 early 2023, the new double-track bridge 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 regions like Chicago. With a doubling of the capacity of the bridge, the project will allow for an expanded service to assist in meeting projected future freight and passenger rail demand, reduce grade delays for motorists and emergency vehicles and ensure reliable rail connections across the Mississippi River into the next century.

“The Class I railroads relying on the Merchants Bridge serve the St. Louis region’s manufacturing and logistics companies that are part of an interdependent supply chain requiring access to markets on both sides of the Mississippi River, across the United States, and internationally,” said Ron Tindall, president of TRRA. “Implementation of this project will allow those companies – and others moving freight from coast to coast through our region – to move that freight faster, more cost-effectively and more reliably. Just as important, TRRA estimates our impact in the region will almost double, as we generate more than $456 million in local economic activity over a 20-year period.”

A design-bid-build project, reconstruction of the bridge uses innovative project delivery methods that will improve safety and speed completion while limiting bridge and river traffic outages. New spans are being constructed in Wisconsin and shipped to St. Louis for final assembly on the Missouri bank of the Mississippi River and each will be floated into place immediately after the old spans are floated out.  Removal and installation of the three new trusses will require three separate 10-day rail outages, and three separate river channel outages.  The first of these outages began on Sept. 13 in preparation for the first truss to be moved into position and floated into place on Sept. 17, a milestone that was witnessed by approximately 200 invited guests and members of the media aboard a Riverboat Cruise hosted by the St. Louis Regional Freightway. The other two trusses will be installed in the winter and summer of 2022.

The replacement of this vital rail artery has been identified each year since 2016 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.

In Winter 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded TRRA a $22.45 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.

“Our Freight Development Committee continues to work with our many public and private partners to understand the needs of our manufacturing and logistics industries so we can speak with one voice to ensure all necessary parties are familiar with the region’s infrastructure priorities, understand why they are priorities and can advocate for funding for them,” said Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President – Multi Modal Enterprises, Bi-State Development. “It is extremely rewarding to see the progress on the region’s top priority project and several of the others on our list. It affirms that we are on the right path with our approach and that our region’s freight network will be stronger as a result.”

Walsh Construction is  the general contractor for the nationally significant Merchants Bridge project, with TranSystems and Burns & McDonnell serving as the project engineers. The steel fabrication is being done by Veritas Steel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

View photos from the riverboat cruise below. 

Freightway Riverboat Cruise to View Construction on the Merchants Bridge