Subscribe for 99¢

ST. LOUIS • The bridge where a falling chunk of concrete killed a woman driving below is structurally sound, according to the city’s director of operations.

But federal data show the bridge over Forest Park Parkway was rated in 2016 as deficient and eligible for replacement.

On Monday, a 22-year-old woman driving a 2003 Mercury Sable crashed into the northwest corner of the bridge at Union Drive and Lindell Boulevard. Police said the woman told them she crashed after losing control on a turn.

The impact toppled a 1-ton chunk of concrete onto Forest Park Parkway, instantly killing Janet Torrisi-Mokwa, 58, as she drove under the bridge, police said.

The bridge was built in 1961 and is inspected annually, said Todd Waelterman, the city’s director of operations.

“We have an old bridge that functions in today’s world,” Waelterman said. “There hasn’t been any blips in the reports that the bridge has any deficiencies.”

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Transportation rated the bridge as structurally deficient and eligible for replacement, according to National Bridge Inventory data.

According to the agency, structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily considered unsafe or likely to collapse. The classification indicates that load-bearing parts of the bridge have been damaged and require “significant maintenance and repair to remain in service.”

The most recent inspections of the bridge were in August 2017 and April 2018, according to a city spokesman. The city is working to compile the inspection reports in response to a Sunshine Law request but said they would not be available until Wednesday morning.

The bridge is “on our radar to be replaced,” a process that could take a decade, Waelterman said.

Waelterman said he believes investigators will find that the driver of the sedan “completely ignored the rules of the intersection” by making an illegal left turn and driving at a high rate of speed.

“You design roadways and bridges for people to stay between the curbs,” he said. “This was definitely a speed thing, an out-of-control thing, and we look forward to more details.”

The structure of the bridge was not compromised by the accident and it has been reopened, Waelterman said.

Bill Hannegan, a contractor who lives near the bridge, said he went to the scene and was surprised to find no evidence of steel rods holding the concrete railing in place.

“My opinion is that the original design was defective from the start. The concrete is just sitting there, not attached to the viaduct by any meaningful way,” Hannegan said. “Right now the railing is able to be pushed and it will fall over onto the expressway.”

There have been more than 20 accidents resulting in injuries at the intersection of Union and Lindell in the last five years, including four that involved pedestrians, according to St. Louis police call records.

Average daily traffic over the bridge in 2014 was 33,500 vehicles, according to the federal Department of Transportation.

St. Louis police at the scene of Monday’s crash called it “a very freak accident.” When the Sable hit the concrete barrier, a 2,500-pound section of concrete toppled onto Torrisi-Mokwa’s 2016 Tesla on Forest Park Parkway, killing her instantly, police said. She was alone in her vehicle.

The driver of the Sable was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. A third car, a 2015 Lexus RX350, was behind the Tesla and rear-ended it.

The bridge has reopened as the investigation continues.

Janelle O’Dea of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Blythe Bernhard is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Breaking News e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.