Crews working on some major area highway projects, including the massive reconstruction of the Interstate 70 and Interstate 435 interchange, have not slowed down during the coronavirus pandemic.
If anything, they might be able to get a bit ahead of schedule.
“People that do get out and about have probably noticed that traffic has decreased,” said Dave Silvester, district engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “We’re taking advantage of that by working with our contractors, figuring out possible advantages and adjusting” work schedules.
“We do a lot of night work when it’s at full traffic, which allows us to work at non-peak hours, but now we’ve modified quite a few contracts to (change to days). It’s hard to tell if we’re getting ahead, but we’re making good progress; it’s a longer working day.”
The I-70/I-435 interchange, which was partially closed and demolished in the spring of 2019, is still scheduled to be completed late this year. Crews took out the loop ramps from I-70 and left-exit ramps from I-435. They have constructed one of the new I-435 bridges and have taken down the old I-435 bridges. Crews are working on the new loop ramps, the second I-435 bridge and the flyover ramps from I-435 that will replace the left-exit ramps.
“If we can get that wrapped up sooner, there might be some savings for taxpayers,” Silvester said.
MoDOT also has crews that have started replacing the deck of the I-435 bridge over the Missouri River, which connects Jackson and Clay counties. Built in 1972, that bridge normally carries more than 81,000 vehicles a day, and the whole rehabilitation project there is scheduled to take about two years, including work on the substructure and below the water surface.
The department this month will start repair work on the Missouri 291 northbound bridge over the river. That should take about a month, officials have said.
Right now, traffic there is merged onto the newer southbound bridge. Normally, the 70-year-old northbound bridge carries about 11,000 vehicles per day.
“It’s critical we get that bridge open to help with the traffic flow over the river,” Silvester said. Eventually, MoDOT will completely replace that bridge, but right now that’s not on the near horizon, he said.
Less highway traffic also gives MoDOT a better chance to catch up on small maintenance work such as potholes, barrier repairs, litter cleanup and mowing.
“That’s all important,” Silvester said. But unfortunately, he added, driver safety hasn’t continued as well.
Several times since pandemic restrictions started, a local MoDOT vehicle has been hit by a wayward motorist. Most times, it’s the trailer set up to warn motorists of work up ahead. Fortunately, there haven’t been injuries.
“It’s there to protect the workers, and they’re doing the job,” Silvester said of those vehicles. “But our St. Louis district is seeing the same thing, so it goes to say that distracted driving is still a major factor.”