The old Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana as it appeared on Aug. 30, 2013.
LOUISIANA, Mo. – For years the construction of a new Champ Clark Bridge has brought sightseers to Louisiana’s riverfront. On Friday the attention will be on the old bridge when explosives bring down two sections of the structure.
Martha Sue Smith, who lives a few blocks away from the bridge that was built in 1928, has been surprised by the strong emotions she has experienced. The 79-year-old Louisiana native drives across the bridge going to and from work each day at WBBA radio in Pittsfield, Ill.
“I have shed a few tears, knowing that bridge is going to be torn down. I realize it needs to be removed. It’s just a funny feeling to have such mixed emotions about it,” Smith said.
Part of the sadness about the loss of the old bridge is the memory of her parents’ pride in the structure, named after Louisiana’s famous resident – James Beauchamp "Champ" Clark, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911 to 1919.
“I remember as a little girl, our family would load up a Dakota Plymouth and pay that toll to cross the bridge. It was a huge deal to cross that bridge,” Smith said.
She watched the new bridge take shape over the past two years and has been happy driving on the new structure since it opened a couple of months ago. But while driving on the new bridge, Smith has had a view of the old bridge that was a neighbor for all of her life. It will be hard for her and many others to say goodbye.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials say a part of that 91-year-old bridge will be eliminated at about 9 a.m. Friday, when explosives detach part of the structure and allow truss spans 2 and 3 to fall into the Mississippi River. Then approximately two weeks later, truss spans 3 and 4 on the Illinois side of the river will be blown up and taken down in a similarly dramatic fashion.
The blasts can be watched "live" on the MoDOT Northeast District's Facebook page.
Keith Killen, project director for MoDOT, said the demolition of the old bridge is being carried out by Massman Construction, the general contractor for the $60 million project that involved building a new Champ Clark Bridge 50 feet downstream from the old bridge, built in 1928.
Ever since the new bridge was opened to traffic in early August, Massman and its subcontractors have been taking steps to dismantle and remove the old bridge.
The first step in the demolition process involved milling off the asphalt driving surface from the old bridge's concrete deck. Then workers started removing the concrete deck itself. This required using a jackhammer to slash through large slabs of steel-reinforced concrete, which were then lifted out and hauled to a landfill.
The next demolition phase will involve taking down the steel trusses. This requires making strategic cuts to weaken the steel at key points. Explosive charges will then be placed near the cuts. Once the charges are set off, the trusses will break into manageable pieces and fall into the river.
Demolition crews will then use cranes to remove the metal pieces from the river and place them on barges to be hauled away.
Killen said the first two trusses are tentatively scheduled to be dropped at about 9 a.m. Friday, but the blasting might actually occur a little later.
"A lot of preparation has to occur to ensure everyone's safety, so it could be delayed," he said.
MoDOT officials expect a large crowd to watch the bridge sections come down.
"We will work with the city of Louisiana to set up signs and traffic control to limit where onlookers can safely watch the blasts," Killen said.
Killen said the new Champ Clark Bridge will be closed temporarily – possibly for up to 45 minutes – as a safety precaution during each blast.
Once truss spans 2-5 are taken down using explosives, Massman will take down truss 1 closest to the Missouri shore. Because the old bridge crosses some railroad tracks at that location, this final truss can't be dropped. It will have to be disassembled in place.
Once all the trusses are gone, the contractor will remove the old bridge's concrete piers. This will require using jackhammers on any piers protruding above the water line. Explosives will then be used on sections of piers below the water line.
Killen said all debris resulting from this work larger than the size of a football will be removed from the river bed.
More information is available on the Champ Clark Bridge website, www.champclarkbridge.com.
Edward Husar provided information for this story.