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Downtown's Merchants Bridge reopens following decade-long, $222M replacement project

Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis estimated the bridge renovation will generate more than $456 million of economic activity over a 20-year period.

ST. LOUIS — Officials on Thursday celebrated the reopening of the Merchants Bridge, marking the completion of a decade-long, $222 million project to replace a crucial link between Missouri and Illinois.

The 133-year-old bridge has long been one of the most traveled connections across the Mississippi River, linking the eastern and western U.S. rail networks. Now, the bridge’s capacity has been doubled with the ability to accommodate two trains at the same time, allowing it to move freight faster, cheaper and with more reliability,according to the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis and St. Louis Regional Freightway.

“All too often in St. Louis, the story is about ‘can’t, shouldn’t and won’t,’” Asim Raza, director of corporate affairs for Terminal Railroad Association, said. “The Merchants Bridge is a story of how Missouri, Illinois, the business community and our elected officials came together to say, ‘can, should and will.’”

The Merchants Bridge required reconstruction due to speed, clearance and load restrictions, and not replacing the bridge would have resulted in rail traffic being rerouted out of the bi-state region, potentially limiting shipping options for area rail-reliant businesses, increasing costs and decreasing jobs, according to the Terminal Railroad Association and Regional Freightway.

Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, which owns the Merchants Bridge, estimated the bridge renovation will generate more than $456 million of economic activity over a 20-year period for the region.

“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,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said the improvements "will further strengthen the St. Louis region’s critical role in moving goods across the country."

Freight's importance has been highlighted recently.

On Thursday, the biggest freight railroads and union leaders reached a tentative labor agreement to avert a nationwide strike which threatened to shut down a crucial vein of the U.S. economy and put fresh pressure on prices when inflation is hovering near four-decade highs.

The bridge also reopens as supply chain disruptions and backlogs continue to plague U.S. commerce.

Officials said the St. Louis area can ease those headwinds by providing a viable alternative to larger, congested rail hubs.

“We’re a global logistics hub, we have a proven track record of bi-state regionalism and our region is one of the best locations for expanding and attracting manufacturing and logistics industries, thanks to projects like the Merchants Bridge,” Mary Lamie, executive vice president of multi modal enterprises at Bi-State Development, said.

Bi-State Development, the St. Louis transit and development organization, in 2014 launched the St. Louis Regional Freightway with the goal of enhancing the region’s standing as a premier international freight hub.

The Federal Railroad Administration in 2020 awarded Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis a $21.45 million grant to help with costs of the bridge replacement. Terminal Railroad, which owns and operates two bridges, a rail switching facility and several key railroad routes in the greater St. Louis area, said it provided 90% of the construction costs, financed 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,” Marilyn Bush, president of Bank of America St. Louis, said. “We’re excited to see the positive impact his will have on St. Louis and the supply chain needs across the country." 

Read the rest of the story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.

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