The event marked the culmination of almost a decade of planning and four years of reconstruction...

The event marked the culmination of almost a decade of planning and four years of reconstruction to modernize the infrastructure over the Mississippi River.

Photo: Walsh Construction/Trey Cambern Photography

Merchants Bridge celebrated its official grand reopening on Sept. 15, following the completion of a $222 million project to replace the artery that links Missouri and Illinois near downtown St. Louis, according to a news release.

The Merchants Bridge serves six Class I railroads and Amtrak as a bridge crossing across the Mississippi River at St. Louis since the 1890s, and the replacement of the structure has been the bi-state St. Louis region’s top freight infrastructure priority since 2016, according to the news release.

The event marked the culmination of almost a decade of planning and four years of reconstruction to modernize the infrastructure over the Mississippi River.

This project will double the capacity of the bridge, so it can facilitate two freight trains at the same time and move freight faster, more cost-effectively, and more reliably, providing a viable alternative to larger congested rail hubs like Chicago.

Elected officials and transportation leaders from Illinois and Missouri gathered with representatives from the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA), Bi-State Development/St. Louis Regional Freightway, Bank of America St. Louis, and Walsh Construction for the celebration, which was attended by approximately 150 guests.

“By renovating the Merchants Bridge, the Terminal Railroad Association has brought it into the 21st century so it can remain a significant part of our freight network,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “The newly reconstructed bridge will move freight faster, reduce delays for motorist and emergency vehicles, and provide reliability for Amtrak passengers. I’ll keep working to bring federal dollars back home to Illinois to support more infrastructure projects.”   

TRRA’s work to deliver this project began long before the pandemic disrupted global supply chains, according to the news release.

“In our 133-year history, TRRA had never previously built a bridge, but we were looking to the future and the growth in freight volumes expected in the next 30 years and knew that replacing the Merchants Bridge and adding the needed capacity would be essential for us to capture some of that increased volume and solidify the region’s positioning as a global freight hub,” said Asim Raza, director of corporate affairs for Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis. “Our collaboration with the St. Louis Regional Freightway to position this project as the region’s #1 infrastructure project priority helped garner the national attention needed to secure federal funding, and today’s celebration is a signature moment to highlight the success of the bi-state, bi-partisan, public-private partnership that made this project possible.”

The Merchants Bridge required reconstruction due to speed, clearance, and load restrictions, according to The Hauser Group. Not replacing the Merchants Bridge would have resulted in rail traffic being rerouted out of the bi-state St. Louis region, potentially limiting shipping options for area rail-reliant businesses, increasing costs and lost jobs.

“Illinois is the transportation hub of North America, with the Metro East at the center of a robust multimodal network that’s crucial to the country’s mobility, supply chain, and freight activity,” said Omer Osman, Illinois transportation secretary. “Under Gov. Pritzker, we have been reinvesting in this critical asset in Illinois, creating and retaining jobs while keeping the state and the region competitive in the global marketplace. The new Merchants Bridge not only fixes an existing problem but also sets the stage for continued economic opportunity in the Metro East for generations to come.”

The added capacity of the new bridge will help reduce the frequency of mile-long blockages along the St. Louis Riverfront.

“Replacement of the 132-year-old Merchants Bridge was essential to strengthen our region as a world-class freight hub benefitting all modes of transportation and to improve the nation’s freight network and support future competitiveness and growth. We salute TRRA and the various partners who helped to deliver the region’s highest priority freight infrastructure project and believe this project demonstrates just how much we can accomplish as a region when we work together,” said Mary Lamie, EVP of multi-modal enterprises at Bi-State Development.

Bi-State Development said it launched the St. Louis Regional Freightway in 2014 with the goal of advancing infrastructure projects that support the movement of freight through the bi-state St. Louis region. 

The Merchants Bridge also serves Amtrak and is a main component of the Chicago to St. Louis high-speed rail corridor.

"Our railways serve as a key connector between St. Louis and other regions for travel and commerce," said Tishaura O. Jones, St. Louis mayor. "I am glad to see this modernized project finally come to completion so we can welcome more visitors into St. Louis."

The overall project included removing and replacing the three river-span trusses, seismically retrofitting the existing river piers, and improving the east approach. As a design-bid-build project, led by Walsh Construction, the reconstruction of the bridge used project delivery methods that have improved safety and speeded completion while limiting bridge and river traffic outages, according to The Hauser Group. Through careful planning and coordination, the project team was able to limit the number of days of rail outages to just 30 days over the four years of the project. TranSystems and Burns & McDonnell served as the lead project engineers, while the steel was fabricated by Veritas Steel in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

"Walsh Construction is proud to work with TRRA and our project partners to unveil the latest renewal of American infrastructure – Merchants Bridge; a revived, high-quality and sustainable connection that is ready to accept freight and commuter rail traffic simultaneously," said Matt Walsh, co-chairman at The Walsh Group. "The men and women of this project have delivered an engineering marvel; from retrofitting the existing piers to installing three nine-million pound trusses, all while adhering to the highest safety and quality standards."

In 2020, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded TRRA a $21.45 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant toward the replacement of the Merchants Bridge. TRRA is providing 90% of the construction costs. The construction financing was secured through Bank of America. 

“Throughout our 175-year history in St. Louis, Bank of America has been honored to play a role in so many initiatives critical to the success of St. Louis. The new Merchants Bridge is another example which showcases the success that results from collaboration among so many entities,” said Marilyn Bush, president, of Bank of America St. Louis. “We’re excited to see the positive impact this will have on St. Louis and the supply chain needs across the country.”

TRRA President Brent Wood highlighted the importance of the Merchants Bridge to the regional and national supply chains and shared insight on the regional economic impact of the project to replace it. 

“This project supported 1,100 construction-related prevailing wage jobs as the work progressed over the past four years to deliver a new structure with increased national rail and multi-modal capacity, resilience, and redundancy, and the economic benefits of this new bridge will be both immediate and long-lasting,” said Wood. “Just as important, we estimate TRRA’s economic impact in the region will almost double, as we generate more than $456 million in local economic activity over 20 years.”

TRRA said it anticipates the region will see more than $370 million in operational savings from reductions in delays, rerouting and operations, and maintenance.

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