Without any fanfare or ceremony, the new Meramec River Bridge in Fenton opened to motorists Friday morning.
It's been a long time coming.
The old bridge was closed in August 2007 after a St. Louis County inspection found extensive deterioration to the bridge deck and support system. Numerous weather delays, including historically high river levels, not only delayed demolition of the old bridge, but also delayed the completion of the new connector between Sunset Hills and Olde Towne Fenton.
The new bridge is the fourth to span the Meramec River at or near that location in Fenton.
According to the archives of the : "A ferry boat was established in 1833 for ease in crossing the Meramec River, and in the same year the first post office opened its doors. In 1854 a group of businessmen formed a corporation to construct the first bridge across the river. This covered toll bridge was used until 1885 when it was replaced by an iron bridge. During the construction of the current 'old bridge' in 1925, Gravois Road was rerouted around Olde Towne and it was at this time that Fenton gradually began to expand beyond the original eight-square-block area."
One of the primary businesses in that original Olde Towne Fenton area is , 1 Gravois Road, Fenton, the well-known hunting and fishing equipment store and the closest business to the new bridge. The store has survived five years of traffic being rerouted from its location and is happy the new bridge has now reopened.
"It was just something we had to suffer through," said proprietor Denis Dennis, whose storefront will be front and center at the Aug. 25 Fenton Days celebration when the city celebrates its 175th birthday and officially dedicates the new bridge.
The frustration over the delays in completing the bridge extended to City Hall, who fielded many call of complaint over the time it took to finish the bridge. It became a dominant negative issue in the city as the bridge construction dragged on.
About the bridge opening, Fenton Mayor Dennis Hncock said: "I feel like I just gave birth to an elephant."
Of the surprise anjouncemnt of the bridge opening, Hancock said the weather, as has alwqays been the case, had made a scheduled opening day a little dicey as the final details of bridge construction were taking place. The latest potential delay was rain interrupting a schedule of power washinbg, sealing and striping the new concrete bridge deck. And even though it rained Wednesday, builders the bridge deck was dry enough for the striping operation, the last item on the checklist before opening.
"Actually we were debating whether to open the bridge right away or just wait until next week (after the striping was completed) and so bwe just decided to do it," Hancock said. "It'll make a lot of people happy."
Hancock says the bridge opening may just be the start of some good times in the city, with a civic pavilion being built near the new bridge and at the end of the Meramec Greenway biking and hiking trail, where a trailhead will be constructed. And then there is the big Fenton Days celebration on Aug. 25 where people can witness the dedication of the new bridge in the morning and watch a big fireworks show in the evening.
"There are a lot of good things going on," Hancock said. "Fun stuff."