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ROCHEPORT, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Transportation has officially kicked off construction on the new I-70 Missouri River Bridge near Rocheport, which will add an extra lane of traffic in both directions.

The bridge is said to be the “lynchpin of America” connecting Missouri’s two largest cities as well as a majority of the country.

Preliminary work will start soon on the bridge with nighttime lane closures. Later, there will be work during the daytime with traffic shifted. Any lane closures will happen at night.

Construction of the new bridge is expected to be complete by the end of 2024.

The current bridge was built in 1960 and is rated in poor condition. If it was not fixed, it could have resulted in weight restrictions in the coming years.

“This bridge is 60 years old and it takes a beating,” Director of MoDOT Patrick McKenna said.

MoDOT said rehabilitation work would have only extended the life of the bridge by as little as 10 years and could have caused three-to-eight hour backups along I-70.

Instead of causing hours of delays, two bridges will be built in the old bridge’s place.

“The two-structure approach, we will be able to separate east and westbound I-70,” McKenna said. “While we are constructing, we’ll be able to minimize the impact to the traveling public because each structure is wide enough in certain times where we can expand to four lanes.”

MoDOT said the bridge carries 12.5 million vehicles per year, including 3.6 million trucks. In fact, within 48 hours, trucks carrying goods to all 48 lower states will have crossed this bridge.

“This highway is going to get busier as time goes on, we can see that coming,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “Just the way things are in the country right now, there’s a lot of makeup to do which means there’s going to be more traffic coming next year.”

The first bridge will be built to the north of the current bridge. Traffic will then be moved to the new bridge by spring of 2023, with four lanes of traffic, two in each direction while the current overpass is demolished. Finally, a second bridge will be constructed. Once completed, there will be three lanes of traffic on each bridge in both directions.

“This bridge definitely had its problems with crashes over the years but when you start talking about something that’s capable of three lanes, making it much safer for people to get across that bridge is going to be important,” Parson said.

The construction will cost $240 million with roughly a third of the cost paid for with a federal grant, Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA). Back in 2019, the Missouri General Assembly passed a bonding package.

“Whatever you buy in a grocery store, chances are it was delivered by a truck that cross this bridge to get there,” Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said.

MoDOT said revenue from the gas tax increase, which went into effect earlier this month, could be used to fund the project.

The new bridges will also include additional safety features.

“Some of those include a high surface friction treatment, paved with pavement sensors to help reduce weather-related incidents and wet reflective pavement markers,” Brandi Baldwin, project director for MoDOT, said.