ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The two-year project shutting down major sections of Interstate 64 in the St. Louis area will be completed nearly a month early and $11 million under budget.
Missouri Department of Transportation director Pete Rahn announced Friday that the stretch from Interstate 170 east to Kingshighway will reopen on Dec. 7, well ahead of the scheduled completion date of Dec. 31.
"We thank St. Louis citizens for their patience as we rebuilt this critical roadway," Rahn said.
Completion of the project is good news for commuters who typically use I-64, the busiest roadway in the St. Louis area. It is equally good news for the hospitals, stores and other businesses along the route. The early completion means holiday shoppers will have 2 1/2 weeks of easier access to the St. Louis Galleria and other stores sitting along the closed section of highway.
"We got an early Christmas present, no question about it, for our shoppers and our retailers," St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said at a news conference that took place on the closed stretch of roadway. "What a great present."
Earl Dorsett agreed. He is the senior general manager at the Galleria.
"It (the closure) has had an impact," he said. "It's hard to say how much because there's been a lot of variables involved, but we're excited to have the highway reopen."
The project, nine miles total, had been expected to cost $535 million. It involved rebuilding the roadway, bridges and interchanges. Some minor work will continue once the stretch reopens.
MoDOT undertook the massive rebuilding project in January 2008. Last year, a stretch from I-270 to I-170 was closed; the eastern segment of the project closed in January.
As the first phase of the project began last year, extra lanes were added to other east-west routes -- interstates 70 and 44. Signals were adjusted on secondary roadways to improve traffic flow, and many people opted to work from home or stagger their hours. Overall, officials said, the region handled the shutdown extremely well.
"There was a lot of skepticism from people from throughout the region about the impact from the closure," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said. "Well, they delivered and they delivered in a way that the skeptics were shown it can be done."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)