OVERSEEING THE DECONSTRUCTION

Jason and Joanne Marschel are lifelong Warren County residents who met in high school, married and later founded Marschel Wrecking LLC, the company that is imploding the old Highway 47 bridge in Washington. They are holding a gift, a watercolor of the old bridge, by local artist Jim Peters. 

The countdown is on for the April demolition of the old Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River.

The old truss bridge was built in the 1930s, doesn’t meet current safety standards, and was closed when its replacement bridge was opened in December.

While everyone familiar with the old bridge, and people simply interested in implosions, are planning a way to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event, Marschel Wrecking LLC, Fenton, is handling the final details to ensure a safe and accurate demolition.

For Jason and Joanne Marschel, the founders and owners of the company, the demolition is a big job close to home. The couple grew up in Warrenton and it’s where they still make their home. It seemed right that people who grew up using the bridge would be the ones to respectfully retire it.

“For us there was a bit of an interest because of where it is and because of where we grew up. It was a fun and interesting project for us to pursue,” Joanne said.

For Jason, it was a lingering thought.

“It was kind of a dream I had a long time ago because, of course, a bridge like that can’t last,” Jason said.

The Marschels had plenty of chances to think about it as they crossed the bridge five days a week as they drove from their home in Warrenton to the office in Fenton.

At some point it might have been easier to move closer to the office, but they are Warren County loyalists.

“My roots are in Warren County,” Jason said.

Their families live here. They own property here.

“I farm on the side. I like being out there, disconnected from everything,” he said.

The Marschels graduated from Warrenton High School in 1993. They were homecoming king and queen together. They went to separate colleges. Joanne earned a degree in business administration.

Jason was studying aviation to be a pilot but ended up taking some time off. It was during his time away, when he discovered a new career path, one that eventually led the couple to starting their own wrecking company in Fenton in 2007, Joanne said.

Since then, the company has grown to employ 100 people and has some 20 to 25 jobs going on throughout the day, Jason said. Jobs take them throughout metro St. Louis and Illinois.

The company has demolished major bridges before, but this is the biggest and the first one over water. Planning for the Highway 47 bridge demolition has been going on for a couple years.

Jeremy Frye, also of Warren County, is the project manager. He said these last weeks before the demolition are fast-paced and high stress. At this point, though, they are doing the physical work.

“First, we get everything off that can be pulled off. Concrete deck, sections of beam removed, anything that’s nonstructural, and then we go back and precut the bridge to weaken predetermined parts,” he explained.

It’s very precise work, and must be considering the health and welfare of the crew, residents, the river, and the new bridge. Just 10 to 12 feet separates the two.

“We have 200 pages of calculations that engineers did for the weakening and precutting for the blast” Frye said, noting that they aren’t ordinary fireworks. “These explosive are specifically designed to cut steel.”

It takes days for the explosives to be put in place.

Like the Marschels, Frye appreciates working on this special project.

“I think it’s a neat project. Growing up, how many times have I driven across that bridge?” he wondered.

One of the questions on social media is what will happen to the bridge parts once it comes down. The Marschels said the old bridge will not be left in the river.

“Everything will be retrieved,” Joanne said. “The sections will be craned out on the Warren County side and hauled off.”

Frye added, “We have to have a completely clean river when we’re done.”

Sonar will be used to identify stray pieces before the job is completed, he said.

The demolition has been a long process, and the day is almost here. Probably. The crew is closely watching weather forecasts. Barring a high river level, lightning storms, or some unpredictable phenomenon, the bridge is coming down.

Frye said there will be a 1,500-foot safety zone around the blast, where no observers will be allowed.

What’s more is that the demolition will be over quickly.

“It takes about 2 seconds and it’s done,” Frye said. “All the charges go off simultaneously and then gravity takes over and everything falls into the water.”

And then there will be the shock of looking up and not seeing the old bridge, something most people around here have seen all their lives.

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