The Current | April 24, 2000

UMSL, MoDOT prepare for I-70 project

by Josh Renaud

The University of Missouri - St. Louis and the Missouri Department of Transportation are close to having everything they need to begin the project to reroute I-70, said officials from both sides.

Motorists driving along the interstate near the Hanley Road exit might believe that the project is underway already. Along that stretch, MoDOT is tearing apart a bridge and leveling ground near the highway as part of a project to replace bridges on I-70 near the airport. The I-70 rerouting project probably won't begin until early next spring, said Lee Hillner, the project manager for MoDOT.

The plan hinges on a land swap between the University and MoDOT. Once the exchange is agreed upon and signed, work will begin to demolish buildings along Florissant Rd. near the highway. MoDOT will then have the room it needs to straighten I-70; a move that will make that stretch safer for motorists, said Hillner.

"It has historically been a problem because of the hill [where Mt. Providence is located] and the curve," Hillner said. "We are going to improve that curve and improve the grade so it will be a highway that is up to today's standards."

The project will replace several bridges along the highway, including the bridges at Hanley, Bermuda, and Florissant Rd., Hillner said. MoDOT will also add an auxiliary bridge for exit and entrance ramps north of I-70 over Florissant Rd.

As compensation for its part in the project, the University is getting an attractive new "front door" to the campus, said Sam Darandari, director of campus planning and construction. The new bridges will feature faux-stone support pillars, terraced landscaping around the concrete slopes, and ornamental lighting. The bridge over Florissant Rd. will also be emblazoned with the University's name, Darandari said.

MoDOT intends to make the interchange of Florissant and I-70 a "single-point" interchange. An example of this type of interchange has been built at Lindbergh and I-55, he said, though that interchange is over the highway, whereas the I-70 interchange would be located under the highway.

Hillner said MoDOT hopes to accept bids and finalize a contract on the project this fall and begin construction in the spring. MoDOT wants to have all lanes of I-70 open to traffic again by the end of 2002, Hillner said, because work will begin on I-40 in 2003.

"I believe [almost] everything is worked out," said Darandari. "We're all set and we're going full speed."

In exchange for the land it gave up, the University will end up with portions of land along the new Florissant Rd. north and south of the rerouted I-70, said Darandari. University officials are beginning to make plans for additional improvements after the project is finished.

On this land, the University hopes to construct a new boulevard entrance from the highway to the campus, Darandari said. The entrance would be lined with trees and other landscaping features in order to stand out visually. Also in the works are monuments, pillars, and scupltures to be placed near the interchange and the entrance to campus, he said.

Traffic will be inconvenienced during the project because of its sheer scope, Hillner said. I-70 will probably be reduced to 2 lanes for a period of time.

"Everybody on campus will have to be patient with us [during the project]," said Darandari. "We're doing the best we can to minimize the inconvenience. This will be a great place to be and [the new entrance] will be more than worth the wait."