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MIPRC supports Missouri's INFRA grant application to renovate the Merchants Bridge
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MIPRC supports Missouri's INFRA grant application to renovate the Merchants Bridge

The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission last month endorsed the Missouri Department of Transportation’s application for a $73.1 million federal INFRA (Infrastructure For Rebuilding America) grant to help replace the 127-year-old Merchants Bridge spanning the Mississippi River between Venice, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri.

Built in 1890, the bridge carries rail traffic from all six Class 1 carriers, five regional short-line railroads, and Amtrak’s state-supported Lincoln Service (Chicago-St. Louis) and long-distance Texas Eagle service (Chicago-San Antonio, Texas). It, and the nearby MacArthur Bridge, are owned by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA). The oldest railroad bridge spanning “Big Muddy,” MODOT officials estimate Merchants Bridge has about 10 years of service life remaining before it must be taken out of service.

In its letter of support, MIPRC notes the project “was selected as the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s number one infrastructure project by members that represent manufacturing, logistics, industrial real estate and all modes of transportation. East–West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis region Metropolitan Planning Organization Board of Directors unanimously supported this project as the number one regional project priority. Both the State of Missouri and the State of Illinois have recognized the importance of this project.”

Eric Curtit, administrator of railroads for MoDOT, said “the Merchants River Bridge is a critical piece of transportation infrastructure in the United States. MoDOT is pleased to partner with TRRA on this much-needed project.”

As for the benefits to passenger rail, MIPRC said “a reconstructed Merchants Bridge would also improve the efficiency of Mississippi River crossings for Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle service, and, according to TRRA, reduce Mississippi River crossing times by five minutes per crossing” – a not inconsequential matter for passengers using Lincoln Service (there was an average of approximately 190,000 boardings and arrivals in St. Louis for Lincoln Service passengers from 2014 to 2016, according to data from the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Station‐specific data for the Texas Eagle is not available).

The $213.9 million project includes replacing the main spans, reconstructing the east approach and seismically retrofitting the river piers. (The bridge is approximately 170 miles north of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, site of the 1811-12 earthquakes that are the strongest in recorded history to shake the lower 48 states east of the Rocky Mountains.)

In addition to the requested INFRA funding, funding would come from the private sector via TRRA and federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing. As noted in MIPRC’s letter, the project’s financing structure “demonstrates significant leveraging of private sector resources” – it will leverage $1.67 for every federal dollar invested – and serves as “a national model for a public private partnership.”

The project is “shovel-ready,” having received environmental clearances, and is 100% engineered.

MIPRC is a nine‐state interstate compact commission that promotes, coordinates and supports regional improvements to passenger rail service. Member states include Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

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