The eagerly-anticipated opening of the new Coldwater River Bridge over U.S. Highway 51 is tentatively set for March 1 — less than three weeks away, according to Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert.
However, Tagert is quick to point out the timeline for the bridge's opening is largely dependent upon the weather.
"It's right at 98 percent complete," Northern District Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert said Monday. "We need two full weeks of uninhibited weather. We have some guardrail work to do but it's so weather dependent. It's not that we can go ahead and open it up and finish things later. Guardrail work is a safety matter."
Tagert said his office has fielded as many calls as the newspaper about when the bridge is slated to open. The bridge has been under construction for the past two years.
"Believe me, we want it to open as soon as everybody else," Tagert said. "I think something that has been lost in all of the discussion is the fact that it's still three months ahead of schedule."
That being said, Tagert said while internally MDOT considers the project three months ahead of schedule — its original completion date was June or July — MDOT paid extra to contractors to get the project expedited and construction work has fallen behind due to the weather and other factors.
"We are technically three months ahead by our own original estimate but we put a clause in there to expedite it. We have paid extra to make that happen. Under a normal construction schedule, we would be looking at June or July."
Tagert said the weather forecast for the next several weeks is calling for more rain and inclement weather.
"It's not looking good from the weather standpoint," Tagert said.
Tagert said when there is a break in the weather, MDOT crews work diligently to get ahead on the project.
"The crews and the MDOT engineers worked all weekend," Tagert said. "Paving as well as guardrails remain. We eventually need between eight to 10 good working days to get it done. Between the cold weather and the ice and snow that we had and this recent rain event, it's been difficult."
Tagert said there are also additional safety features to put on the bridge, which cost $22.7 million.
"We have to put the rumble strips on the perimeter and the final layer of asphalt," Tagert said. "Normally, asphalt takes 10 days to cure but we're doing some things to make that happen faster. It's a huge bridge. We want it to open as soon as everyone does."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.