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ST. LOUIS – The Merchants Bridge is in the process of being reconstructed as the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis (TRRA) plans to increase rail traffic through St. Louis.

“The new span we’re putting in today they’re going to be out there lifting it up,” said Dan Sieve, senior project manager at Walsh Construction. “It’s almost nine million pounds where the first one was four million pounds. This one should last a few centuries by itself. It’s a big structure, took five months to put it together. The biggest thing we’re looking at right now is that the river is quite low. So, today is a perfect day we’re able to get it in so we lucked out. They had a little bit of rain in the Midwest, so it helped us out.”

At the moment, only one train could cross due to load restrictions over the Merchants Bridge, which was built in 1890. The bridge will be retrofitted and structurally reinforced to soon accommodate two tracks over the Mississippi River. It will double its capacity for rail freight.

“To rebuild this bridge from scratch would certainly involve the piers and the river and everything,” said Brent Wood, president of TRRA. “But, amazingly after 130 years, those piers are still very solid. We had to spend a lot of time and money on expanding those piers to accommodate the new heavier and wider trains.”

The TRRA, Bi-State, and private businesses came together and contributed to the $220 million project. About 10% of the money came from federal funds.

The project began in September 2021, when the first truss was removed so the crew can put in a replacement piece.

Eric Fields, chief engineer of Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis said it’s a grueling process, especially dealing with the river and weather.

“It’s the defining feature of St. Louis and is a blessing and a curse,” Fields said. “It helps with river navigation. Railroads have to cross it. It’s the original continental divide in the country until we got to the Rockies. But, once railroads bridged the Mississippi River, commerce just exploded to the West. Connecting the two coasts via rail and highway across the Mississippi River has been critical to stitching the country together.”