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Work is Underway on Poplar Street Bridge Expansion

Construction is underway to strengthen supports for the Poplar Street Bridge on Thursday, March 23, 2017, and to add another eastbound lane. To accomplish this, contractor KCI is going to lift and move the eastbound lanes nine feet to the outside. Then, they will fill in the middle section with new beams and another lane. The two year project that began last month will cost $54 million. Over 100,000 cars use the bridge daily. Photo by J.B. Forbes,

Ongoing construction-related lane closures on the Poplar Street Bridge are about to increase, potentially adding to traffic snarls on the busy span.

From Friday morning until the end of next year, the number of westbound lanes on the bridge will be three instead of the normal four.

Meanwhile, only two of four lanes will continue to be available for eastbound drivers — as has been the case since September. But traffic will be shifted to the two middle lanes.

Sometime in February, the number of open eastbound lanes will increase to three. What had been the normal four eastbound lanes — plus a newly-built fifth eastbound lane — won’t be available until late next year.

For a few days this week, things will even be tighter on the bridge as work crews install and shift barrier walls and restripe lanes to accommodate the lane shift. There will be only one eastbound lane open from 8 p.m. Tuesday to 2 p.m. Wednesday and again from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 2 p.m. Thursday.

Only two westbound lanes will be available from 8 p.m. Thursday to 5 a.m. Friday.

It’s all part of an ongoing $54 million renovation of the downtown bridge, which carries Interstates 64 and 55 across the Mississippi River.

Train safety controls

Amtrak won’t run trains at higher speeds between St. Louis and Chicago until new safety technology is installed and tested, Illinois officials said after last week’s deadly crash near Seattle.

“Working with our partners, improving safety on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor has been a primary goal as we work to implement higher speeds,” the Illinois Department of Transportation said in a statement.

The Associated Press reported that none of the new GPS-based technology that could have prevented the derailment was active before the crash, which killed three and injured dozens.

Installation of the technology, called positive train control, won’t be done until next spring on the 15-mile route in Washington state, the AP reported. The train, on its first trip, was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. The technology could have detected that and triggered the brakes.

The federal government has ordered passenger and freight railroads to install positive train control by the end of next year. Congress in 2015 had voted to extend earlier deadlines at the request of industry officials who said more time was needed.

Kelsea Gurski, a spokeswoman for IDOT, said current plans called for trains along much of the St. Louis-to-Chicago Amtrak route to be operating at up to 90 mph by mid- to late 2018. Positive train control must be in place before that happens, she said. By 2019, speeds are expected to hit 110 mph.

The higher speeds, to be used in the open expanses outside the St. Louis and Chicago metro areas, are expected to trim about an hour in travel time when fully implemented. Now trains do up to 79 mph along the 284-mile route. The higher speeds are part of a $1.95-billion, eight-year upgrade of the corridor, including the installation of new rails and concrete ties and various other improvements.

New crossing gates have been installed to make it less likely that vehicles and pedestrians will be hit by trains. So have 3-foot-high pedestrian fences.

Lambert contract snags

St. Louis Lambert International Airport has launched a third round of bidding for a major janitorial contract because of confusion over what was required of companies to try to involve participation by minority- and women-owned firms.

An airport statement said 12 bids submitted in the second round this fall were thrown out because of “considerable confusion” among bidders regarding what Lambert meant by the terms “good faith efforts” and “outreach.” That’s now been clarified, the airport said.

In June, a Chicago firm that had won the first round of bidding abruptly gave up its $14.74 million, three-year contract.

That happened a few days after Lambert began inquiring about a news report that the company, United Maintenance, was accused by a Chicago agency of reserving jobs based on political considerations in violation of its contract with that city.

Lambert in January had initially rejected United’s bid because of other news reports that its president had ties to organized crime figures. After United appealed, the airport reversed its decision after concluding that United provided “satisfactory and credible support” that the reports were unfounded.

The new contract was supposed to have begun last July 1.

Now it’s slated to begin a year later. In the meantime, the previous contract holder, Regency Enterprises Services LLC of south St. Louis County, has continued to work under an extension.