Drivers traveling through St. Louis will soon find it easier to cross between Missouri and Illinois, where the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. will open on Feb. 9. The Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, initially known as the New Mississippi River Bridge, is part of a $694 million project that involves rerouting traffic from the nearby Poplar Street Bridge to alleviate congestion.

Two lanes of Interstate 70 will travel over the bridge in each direction, with room to expand to three in the future. Construction, featuring a 1,500-foot structural steel main span with a concrete deck, 400-foot-tall reinforced concrete piers, and 68 pairs of stay cables, began in January 2010.

When ready-mix producer Jay Riley heard about plans for the bridge in 2009, he dismissed the idea of bidding. Riley has owned Riley Ready Mix & Materials in St. Louis for 15 years. With 25 employees and a fleet of 25 trucks, he assumed the project was beyond the scope of his resources.

But Riley’s perspective changed when he attended an informational meeting held by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). “MoDOT encourages its partners to think outside the box,” he says. “I never would have attempted a project of this magnitude on my own, but I realized that a partnership might work.”

For the small producer, finding a creative way to collaborate was the key to surviving—and thriving—in a slow construction market. Riley talked to the management team at Kienstra Enterprises, a concrete producer with operations in Missouri and Illinois.

The producers formed a mutually beneficial arrangement that would provide expertise on both sides of the river, and keep the work local. Riley formed Riley Illinois LLC with Kienstra President Danny Bruns, CFO Pat Wessels, and Scott Maberry, general manager of Kienstra Illinois. MoDOT supported the idea and, when the agency accepted Riley Illinois’ bid, the real work began.

The logistics of spanning a river

After securing funding, the partners began to hash out the details of supplying massive amounts of concrete to a high profile, fast-paced project in two different states.

“Considering there were two different DOTs involved, the process wasn’t as stressful as I thought it would be,” Riley says. MoDOT and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have a long-standing partnership when it comes to projects involving both states. The two agencies hold an annual Border Bridge meeting to coordinate maintenance on the bridges they share.

The agencies alternate responsibility for each new project, and determine financing based on the percentage of the project that falls within each state. MoDOT coordinated construction and managed contracts, while IDOT was responsible for roughly two-thirds of the funding because most of the roadwork falls on its side of the Mississippi River. Maintenance costs will be split evenly.