Safety issues

If you read about some of the notable incidents already, you should know that this section of 270 has quite the reputation.  There is a long list of major accidents, with some of them fatal, and a fair share of winter storms that made the bridge impassable due to the ice.  The river bridge is over a mile long, just 4 lanes, and no shoulders – which means anytime there is an incident at least one lane is blocked almost every time.  This creates a risk for other drivers as they are forced to slow down, and most of the time this is very difficult to do.  A jackknifed tractor trailer almost guarantees that all traffic would be forced into Alton on the Clark Bridge, which was not designed to handle any traffic that normally does the Chain of Rocks Bridge.  (It took only 8 months for the locals in the River Bend to find that fact out – the hard way.) The rest of the 270 mainline between Lilac to Route 203 is just as dangerous – with 3 curves in bad spots and narrow shoulders – the margin for error is very low.

The winter months tend to be some of the worst months to use this bridge as well.  The weather tends to be anything goes, and often the ice storms will put the surface to the point its impossible to drive on the bridge.  In addition, bald eagles tend to hang out in this area, and they tend to be out flying around first thing in the morning feeding on the fish below.  People often drive too fast for the conditions (nobody ever obeys the posted 55 MPH speed limit) and get distracted by watching those beautiful birdies.  Historically, speeding and distracted driving never go together and as a result some of the worst wrecks that ever happen tend to come around the holidays.  2010 was no different than any other year, with two wrecks in a 10 day period back in December that totally shut down the bridge for a combined 12 hours and caused one fatality.  Those two wrecks crippled the River Bend, and caused some nasty traffic jams that the Metro East won’t soon forget.

About five years ago there was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the lights on the bridge not working at all.  The locals were so concerned with the safety back then that they went to the media about the problem.  It took almost two years for IDOT to get those lights replaced.

In April 2011, MoDOT released the safety records for the North County portion of Highway 270.  It gave a very poor rating for the section east of the Riverview exit.  (That whole section of 270 did not fare any better with safety, most if not the entire mainline was rated poor or very poor.)  MoDOT has tried various safety improvement projects for their section of 270 in the past few years.  IDOT has not bothered with improving safety on the bridge at all, the cables and guardrails on the island don’t do enough, and as a result there is a four mile section of 270 that does not meet modern interstate standards.  This section of 270 has changed little since it opened in 1965-1966, and it is now functionally obsolete between 255 and 370.  The canal bridge currently has a functionally obsolete rating, and it is surprising that the river bridge did not get that rating. (Note that the canal bridge was replaced in 2014 and subsequent inspections on the river bridge did not confirm the rating.)

The locals have simply had enough with the safety issues.  Some have already changed their jobs – either to the same side of the river they have their homes or where they can take a different bridge.  Others have changed their residence to avoid the bridge.  The ones that have not done so have already lashed out about the safety issues of the bridge on various discussion boards, and the comment sections on the December 8, 2010 incident from two different local newspapers both attacked the bridge design.  IDOT is still keeping silent on the safety issues on this section of 270 right now, so it is important to inform the public about that dark little secret that they don’t even want the media to know about.  Its going to be a matter of time before the next major incident happens.  Until then, keep those smart phones and cameras handy.  When locals start tweeting about incidents that happen on a routine basis, the media will take notice and turn up the heat.


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