By Ken Leiser
Perhaps it was inevitable that two states that have been at odds over the new Interstate 70 bridge spanning the Mississippi River would spar over what to name it.
Missouri lawmakers wasted little time voting to name the Missouri half of the new four-lane bridge for the beloved late Cardinals great, Stan "the Man" Musial. Illinois lawmakers have gotten behind naming it for military veterans. Trouble is that both states have to agree on one name.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a compromise moniker aimed at satisfying both states: the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.
"The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most storied and successful first-rate franchises in sports history, and the best player to ever don the St. Louis Cardinal uniform was Stan "the Man' Musial," said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who came up with the compromise.
Off the field, Davis said, Musial led by example. In 1945, Musial took a year during the prime of his career to serve in the. Navy during World War II.
"Today, lets honor our veterans and Stan "the Man' Musial," he said.
Several members of the Illinois and Missouri congressional delegation backed the proposed name.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, was a chief sponsor along with Davis of the legislation.
"I'm proud to name it after Stan Musial not just because of what he did on the field, but off the field, too," Clay said before Tuesday's floor session. "He stood up to the racists and the ignorance of the 1940s and put his arms around people like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks and demonstrated that they were human beings, too."
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, also backed the compromise, hailing Musial as "an exemplary human being" in a brief floor speech.
While lawmakers grapple with its name, the 1,500-foot, cable-stayed bridge continues to take shape north of the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis. Despite high water on the Mississippi River that has caused some recent delays, Missouri transportation officials said Tuesday that the bridge is still expected to open to traffic in early 2014.
This isn't the first time the two states have tangled over the bridge.
For years, Illinois and Missouri were mired in a dispute over the size and location of the bridge and how to pay for it. Missouri floated the idea of charging tolls before backing off that idea.
By the time the former governors of Illinois and Missouri signed off on a deal in 2008, the bridge had been scaled back to four lanes from the original eight.
Naming it also has taken some twists and turns too.
Initially, Missouri took up a measure that would name it the Jerry F. Costello-William Lacy "Bill" Clay Sr. Veterans Memorial Bridge, after two prominent congressmen who helped to secure its funding.
This year, after the death of the 92-year-old Musial, the Missouri Legislature passed a measure that would name the Missouri portion of the new I-70 bridge the "Stan Musial Memorial Bridge." A portion of I-70 would be known as the "Andy Gammon Memorial Highway," in honor of the carpenter from Park Hills, Mo., who died working on the span.
Illinois lawmakers countered with the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Davis proposed the combined name as a compromise. It is gaining some grudging acceptance.
Illinois state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, said naming the bridge for U.S. veterans took up steam shortly after the new bridge was proposed. Both houses of the Illinois Legislature have passed resolutions in favor of naming it the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
"We have many things to argue and problems to solve other than what is going to be the name of a bridge," Hoffman said. "I have utmost respect for Stan Musial as a person and as a veteran. If this is what we need to do to put this behind us, I am certainly willing to talk" to Missouri lawmakers.
Hoffman's counterparts in the Missouri statehouse also signaled a willingness to reach a middle ground.
"It's not an issue I am going to jump up and down or cry over," said Missouri state Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the Missouri bill.
But he remained at a loss to explain how the two states "wandered into the woods" over this. He still held out hope that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon will hold a bill-signing in downtown St. Louis on naming the bridge for Musial.
In the end, it may prove a moot point anyway. Sometimes the motoring public seizes the wheel when it comes to bridge naming rights.
The Poplar Street Bridge, for instance, was initially dubbed the Bernard F. Dickmann Gateway Bridge, after a former St. Louis mayor. Poplar Street is simply a St. Louis street near the bridge approach. That name is the one that stuck.
And Mississippi River bridge names change, too, over time.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge between downtown St. Louis and the Metro East was originally the Veterans Memorial Bridge. The Eads Bridge -- ultimately named for its designer and builder Capt. James Buchanan Eads -- was originally called the St. Louis Bridge. And the MacArthur Bridge, which was named for Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the 1940s, was previously the Municipal Bridge.