The U.S. 40 bridge over the Blue River, just west of Independence, is closed for the next several months.

The 81-year-old bridge was scheduled to be replaced starting in January, but the Missouri Department of Transportation announced its immediate closure on Thursday.

The new bridge is scheduled to be open by March 31.

MoDOT said a regularly scheduled inspection “revealed critical deteriortation to the structure.” MoDOT has 1,421 bridges in nine Kansas City area counties, and this bridge is one of 271 rated as poor.

MoDOT also is working on a larger project in that area. It’s replacing the two bridges – one eastbound, one westbound – that carry I-70 over the Blue River, Manchester Trafficway and several rail lines. The current bridges are decades old and worn out, MoDOT says, and are being replaced by new ones that will flare out to the sides. For example, the new bridge to carry westbound traffic is going up immediately north of the current bridge.

This is being done to avoid the massive traffic disruptions of replacing the two current bridges in their current locations, MoDOT says. The agency has tried to limit lane closures to weekends. The new bridges should be in place by the end of 2015. The old bridges will torn down when the new ones are put into use.

– Jeff Fox