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Jefferson Barracks Bridge remains closed westbound

Inspectors work underneath the Jefferson Barracks Bridge on Monday, May 13, 2019 after the westbound span was closed following a routine inspection Sunday by the Missouri Department of Transportation found that emergency repairs were needed. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com.

Inspectors continued to scrutinize the closed westbound lanes of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge Tuesday and hope to be able to announce on Wednesday a timeline for emergency repairs and the span’s reopening.

Meanwhile, Illinois officials said although traffic congestion in the Tuesday morning rush wasn’t as severe as the day before, the pace of getting to alternative bridges to Missouri still remained a big challenge.

“There were some minor improvements,” said Joseph Monroe, district operations engineer for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

But he said there again were big snarls around the Poplar Street Bridge in East St. Louis, the nearest alternate Mississippi River crossing, and along Illinois Route 3 leading to it.

Monroe urged Metro East drivers trying to get to Missouri to avoid the 11-mile stretch of Route 3 between Interstate 255 in Monroe County and East St. Louis.

Instead, IDOT has marked as its designated detour I-255 to Interstate 55 into East St. Louis and the Poplar approach.

Monroe said Route 3 just isn’t designed to handle such a large load of vehicles and, unlike the interstates, has various intersections with traffic signals.

Moreover, he said, the two northbound Route 3 lanes empty into a one-lane ramp to merge into interstate lanes leading to the Poplar.

IDOT officials also pointed out that the Stan Musial Veterans Bridge, the Eads Bridge and the McKinley Bridge are less crowded options leading to downtown St. Louis and nearby areas. The Martin Luther King Bridge is closed; a year-long shutdown began last August to allow for the replacement of a smaller bridge leading to it.

Monroe said backed-up queues near the Poplar started earlier on Tuesday than they did Monday, an indication that motorists are adjusting their schedules because of the Barracks Bridge closure.

The westbound span was closed Sunday after Missouri Department of Transportation inspectors discovered cracking in steel beams during a routine check.

A small army of inspectors was called in Monday to begin further checks of the westbound span and its companion eastbound span.

About 60,000 vehicles a day typically use the bridge, MoDOT says, with about half driving westward.

MoDOT spokesman Andrew Gates said while the detailed inspections continued Tuesday, the agency took advantage of the closure to also get some unrelated work done — putting a new seal on the westbound span’s driving surface.

MoDOT officials say emergency work was last done on both the bridge’s westbound and eastbound spans in 2011. That included repairing or replacing some vertical support cables and replacing lateral bracing underneath the driving deck.

Editor's note: The Missouri Department of Transportation said Wednesday the Jefferson Barracks Bridge carries about 60,000 vehicles each day — 30,000 westbound and about 30,000 eastbound. This story was corrected to reflect that information.

Mark Schlinkmann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.