By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
LOUISIANA, Mo. -- Maps showing the possible alignments for a new Champ Clark Bridge got considerable attention Thursday at a public meeting hosted by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Commenters liked the fact that the bridge proposals will not change the route of U.S. 54 in Louisiana very much.
"All eight of the alternatives that we're showing tonight are within a couple hundred feet of the current bridge location," said Keith Killen, MoDOT's project engineer.
The bridge connections on the Illinois side of the river also would be fairly similar to the current alignment. The proposal with the greatest change would move the bridge downstream by perhaps 200 feet, with a sweeping curve that lines up roughly with the current highway configuration.
Killen said MoDOT officials expect the bridge to cost about $100 million.
The state has not identified funding for the project but is working on the environmental assessment now so the project can begin should funding become available. When funds come through, the project could begin in five to eight years. The construction phase would be expected to take about two to three years.
MdDOT District Engineer Paula Gough said Thursday's public meeting is just one of the ways the agency is seeking input on the bridge project.
"We really want to hear from the public, and we make that possible not only with meetings, but at our Web site," Gough said.
A proposal discussed in the Missouri Legislature might allow voters to decide on a 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects. The tax would sunset in 10 years and would raise nearly $8 billion for road and bridge improvements. Some of the people attending Thursday's meeting see that as a possible funding source for the new Camp Clark Bridge.
Mel Orf, the zoning and building inspector at Bowling Green, attended the meeting to see the bridge maps and talk with MoDOT engineers.
"This would greatly benefit Bowling Green, as well as Louisiana," Orf said. "I think the narrow (existing) bridge hinders truck traffic, and getting a new, wider bridge would create more truck traffic and other types of traffic, too."
Orf is a member of the Highway 54 Commission, a group seeking either a four-lane or a shared-four configuration on U.S. 54 from Mexico, Mo., to the bridge at Louisiana.
"That would tie us into I-72 (in Pike County, Ill.) and I-70 and all the other major roadways," Orf said.
The existing bridge, built in 1928, is being studied for replacement. It's driving surface is only 20 feet wide. Modern standards call for a minimum of 28 feet for two-lane structures. Killen said MoDOT would like to have a 32-foot driving surface with 12-foot lanes and 4-foot shoulders.
Narrow driving lanes were considered a contributing factor in a fatal crash on the Champ Clark Bridge in December 2011. Logging equipment carried on a westbound truck fell off after the truck struck a guardrail as it met an eastbound car. The driver of that car died after colliding with the equipment.
It has cost $6 million to maintain the bridge in the last 10 years.
Officials and commuters from the Illinois side of the river also are interested in the proposed project. The bridge remains a vital link between Missouri and Illinois, with an average traffic count of 4,140 vehicles a day. About 15 percent of the traffic involves commercial vehicles.
The bridge approach in Illinois also creates an opening in the Sny Island Levee, which protects more than 100,000 acres of prime farmland and hundreds of homes. A new bridge might be designed so that the levee will remain intact.