Steel support piles stretched three stories high Friday afternoon at the site of a Poplar Bluff Industrial Park overpass project, as those involved in the four- year effort discussed its progress. Those support piles mark where the bridge deck will go when work is completed on the retaining walls that sit on either side of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. About 25 trains a day pass through this section of farm- land southwest of the industrial park.

“We need about 120 working days to finish. Typically, that’s an average of about six months,” explained Travis Slayton, project manager with Robertson Contractors. “It just depends on the weather. We’re down to the weather right now.”

The overpass bridge is expected to carry about 2,000 vehicles a day when it opens, serving about a dozen factories.As the $3.4 million project enters its homestretch, it has been anything but an easy process.

“The only reason this bridge is a reality is through the hard work of the people of Butler County,” said John Burgelin, assistant regional manager with Horner & Shifrin engineering, which designed the structure. The cost to the county and taxpayers is very minor because of the work of local people, he continued. County commissioners, with the help of Ozark Foothills Regional Planning Commission, obtained grant money for the majority of costs, Burgelin said. Roberston also held their bid for an extended period of time, to make it affordable for the county, he said. COUNTY ROAD MONEY CLOSES FUNDING GAP The latest hiccup for the effort came in late 2018, when a deal to close a rail- road crossing in Neelyville was scrapped because of public opposition. The deal was expected to generate cash for the overpass project. Butler County will now contribute $250,000 to the project, money that will be taken from its eastern and western district road funds, said presiding commissioner Vince Lampe. The county’s cost prior to this had been about $33,000 of in-kind work. Lampe said he is negotiating with a state agency to provide the final $500,000 that will be needed. Grant money and other funding will cover the remainder of the costs.

The effort to fund this overpass started in early 2015, when the county received a $1.4 million grant from the Missouri Department of Economic Development and $1 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grants were awarded because of an expansion in 2014 by Mid-Continent Nail that added over 70 jobs to the industrial park. In 2015, project costs were expected to be about $2.7 million in total. While officials tried to close funding gaps, costs for the project went up and additional changes were needed to the design. When bids were sought and opened in July 2017, they were approximately $700,000 higher than the original budget. Costs for a crash wall alone had doubled, to approximately $1 million, in the span of a year, engineers said at the time.


“Butler County, Horner & Shifrin and our goals are to have a high quality project delivered on an expedited schedule,” said Jake Robertson, a project manager with Robertson Contractors. The design requires two and a half feet of concrete between the train tracks and the bridge supporting elements, to create a crash cushion.

The concrete walls on either side of the tracks are backed by a combined 76,000 cubic yards of dirt and 30,000 tons of rock. Steel straps are secured into the rock to hold the walls in place. This will become the road bed.


Robertson is required to closely monitor the moisture level in the soil at the project before determining if a workday can start. The correct moisture level pre- vents settlement within the embankment during construction, Slayton said. Three measurement devices are in place at the site to collect data on how much the subsurface below the new earthen structure settles over time, he explained. The field data is reviewed weekly. Construction was delayed during the winter months because of moisture levels in the soil, Slayton said. “The earth work is very sensitive,” he said. “We’re building it under DOT (Department of Transportation) specifications. It has to be a certain moisture level to work and it takes time when you don’t have the warmer temperatures of the summer months.”

About 75 percent of the dirt embankment is in place now. Retaining walls are about 85 percent complete. Work can also be slowed down by train traffic. A typical work day means about five hours of work time, Slayton said. “We’re not allowed to move any piece of equipment when the trains comes,” he explained, adding after working under the constraints of train traffic, “We can see the benefit of this getting done.” Robertson will need to work even more closely with UP with regards to train traffic when it comes time to work on the bridge deck over the tracks.
This is a very worthwhile project, said Butch Anderson, eastern district commissioner. “After this is open, people will really see what a time saver and a safety factor this is,” he said. This project is the result of great cooperation, said Boots LeGrand, western district commissioner. “I think the project is moving well for the weather we’ve had,” said Lampe. It is especially satisfying to be part of a project like this in their hometown, according to Robertson and Slayton.


Original Arcticle and Photo from
Daily American Republic/Donna Farley