ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Commuters may not have to navigate around construction on one of the busiest interstates in St. Louis for as long as they thought.
Contractors said Monday that if the weather continues to cooperate, they hope to reopen I-64 before the Dec. 31 construction deadline.
The project, which costs $535 million, is the largest ever bid by the Missouri Department of Transportation. If the design-build contractor, Gateway Constructors, beats the project deadline, it will earn a $2 million bonus.
"We are trying to beat that deadline and open the interstate as early as possible," Dan Galvin, spokesman for Gateway Constructors said. He did not provide a more specific timeline.
Construction for the new I-64 project began in March 2007, with lane closures starting in January 2008. The two-phase project stretches 10 miles from the suburbs of St. Louis County to the city of St. Louis. The first half was completed last year.
Crews are working on sound walls, medians, ramps and striping. They recently took down the final bridge to be rebuilt.
The state's transportation department considered keeping one lane of traffic open during construction, but doing that would have added an extra four to six years to the completion date.
Jennifer Arvin, manager of public relations at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which is just off the interstate, says the hospital's 10,000 employees will be "very happy" if the interstate is reopened early.
"Employees have had to find alternate routes to work," Arvin said. "But it wasn't as dire as people predicted. When the highway first closed, people thought they would have to find new jobs."
She said at most the interstate closure has added an extra 10 minutes to employees' commutes.
The project's main benefit to the city is an addition of one lane for part of the interstate that will increase traffic flow and eliminate short, tight entrance/exit ramps and merges. There will also be enhanced safety with wider shoulders.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)