ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Despite wet weather that has plagued the St. Louis area all year, the project to rebuild a big section of Interstate 64 is ahead of schedule and may open early, Missouri Department of Transportation leaders said Friday.
Amid the noise of paving machines, bulldozers and heavy trucks, MoDOT hosted a news conference on I-64 at Lindbergh Boulevard, where the last pavement for the main roadway was poured Thursday afternoon.
MoDOT director Pete Rahn said the five-mile stretch of I-64 that was expected to reopen at the end of the year may now open by late November, if the weather cooperates.
"This has been a project of unimaginable scope and unimaginable speed," Rahn said. "We are delivering it ahead of schedule and on budget."
I-64 is the St. Louis area's busiest interstate, and MoDOT is rebuilding an approximate 9-mile stretch of it in two phases. Each requires a complete shutdown of the roadway.
The first phase of work involves rebuilding the roadway, bridges and interchanges from Interstate 270 east to I-170. As soon as that phase is finished, MoDOT will rebuild a four-mile stretch from I-170 to downtown St. Louis. That work is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
The total cost of the project is $535 million.
Project director Lesley Hoffarth said that while paving work is complete, workers must still stripe the roads, put up lights, install guardrails and signals before the highway can reopen.
The region's traffic has handled the shutdown surprisingly well. Extra lanes were added to other east-west routes -- interstates 70 and 44. Signals were adjusted on secondary roadways to improve traffic flow. Many workers have opted to work from home or stagger hours.
Now, MoDOT officials say, those who use the stretch of I-64 east of I-170 need to start thinking about how they'll adjust as early as next month, when Phase 2 of the project could begin.
"The switch from the west half to the east half will happen sometime between late November and New Year's Eve," Hoffarth said. Officials say they'll give notice a month before that changeover.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said the project has exceeded expectations, and he praised residents for dealing with the inconvenience.
"We felt it was a tremendous opportunity to move our county forward," Dooley said. "Why should it take six to eight years to get something done when it can happen in one year?"
Still, he's eager to get I-64, still known locally as Highway 40, open again.
"This Highway 40 is St. Louis County's Main Street," Dooley said.
On the Net:
MoDOT I-64 project page: www.thenewi64.org.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)