Governor’s tour of aging bridges highlights alternate funding plan

Roxie Murphy
Staff Writer

REDBIRD — Governor Michael L. Parson visited State Route B bridge over Clear Creek in Phelps County Feb. 14 in an attempt to share information on his “Focus On Bridges” campaign.

“We are trying to get information out to the public to make sure they really understand what the problems are and why we picked the bonding proposal out of general revenue to do that,” Parson said about the conference. 

The Route B bridge, No. S-0634, is located approximately eight miles north of St. James. It was built in 1934 and is approximately 85-years-old — 10 years older than its life expectancy — and is on the Missouri “poor list” according to Alan Trampe, central district bridge engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

“We are out here in rural Missouri, which may not get as much traffic or as much salt,” Trampe said.“Salt is our enemy; that’s why the deck usually falls apart and why the steel rusts so bad.”

Bridge No. S-0634 is scheduled to be replaced in 2022, according to the governor’s infrastructure plan.

MoDOT employees, including Trampe, who has inspected nearly every bridge in the state of Missouri, were in attendance to answer questions. Visitors included Phelps County Commissioner Randy Verkamp, members of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna, Sen. Justin Brown, neighboring landowners, and press. The road was turned into one lane to allow for parking.

McKenna told visitors that Missouri has an infrastructure problem, and more specifically, a bridge problem.

“There are 122 bridges in poor condition in the state and they grow at over 100 a year,” McKenna said. “We manage at the state level 10,400 bridges. Local and county bridges have another 14,000 bridges on top of that.”

McKenna said the issue of infrastructure state wide is urgent and hasn’t been paid attention to as much as it has needed to. He said MoDOT is losing the ability to maintain roads and bridges with inflation each year and needs relief.

“That is why it is exciting to have the leadership of Gov. Parson,” McKenna said. “To fund 250 bridges — to take a look and say we need to find the means to use a bonding program to bring that forward — and then to have additional capacity to use that for additional projects.”

Parson told visitors that the Route B Bridge is used by “everyday people.”

“That’s why I introduced a bonding bill and asked legislatures to support that,” Parson said. “The people of Missouri to support that — and legislators and senators here are how we are going to move forward. But the people of Missouri said in November that they don’t want to pay any more taxes for infrastructure in this state.”

Parson said regardless of the reasons why, that is what the people decided.

“That basically told me, as the governor, and the legislature, that you need to find solutions without a tax increase,” Parson said. 

That is why they took the bonding approach.

“I think you should realize these are the worst of the worst,” Parson said. “Some of these bridges are total replacement or total repair that we have to replace.”

Parson said the Route B bridge may have a capacity of about 20,000 pounds and a new bridge would have a capacity of 70,000 to 75,000 pounds — which would make a difference to farmers hauling equipment.

“With the bonding proposal, what we did by taking that $350 million out — and bonding it for a long period of time,” Parson said. “The bonding authority is for 15 years. Projects we are bonding are for 50 and 75 year life-spans, which basically means that the bonding markets want you to invest in money long-term.”

By taking the $350 million out of the current stipulation plan, there will be another $350 million available for other projects.

“The bottom line to that is another billion dollars of infrastructure (is available) in the next five years by implementing this plan,” Parson said. “Whether you live in this county or in the urban areas — if you really want Missouri to grow, if you want Missouri to expand, we are going to have to do something with infrastructure in our state.” 

Parson said everyone keeps talking about it, and at some point they have to quit talking and find solutions.

“That is exactly why we are here today — to understand what we are doing and how important it is,” Parson said. “If you want business to expand, you have to do something with infrastructure in this state.”

Verkamp, commissioner of Phelps County, said he was pleased to have a former county official as governor to help resolve the infrastructure problem.

“You know what we are going through and we are most anxious to get your continued support,” Verkamp told Parson.

Phelps County has an estimated 600 miles of road, Verkamp said. Brown, senator of the 16th district, said he supports the governor’s infrastructure plan “110 percent.”

“We are going to help the governor get this done,” Brown said.

The governor visited two other bridges last Thursday — including Gravois Road at Saline Creek in Fenton and Route AD at Happy Sac Creek in Franklin County.

“I seen one earlier in Franklin County similar to this one that was probably in worse shape than this one was. Probably the worse one I have seen today,” Parson told visitors. He added that the bridges he visited were not chosen in any specific way, but by location to get around the state. The governor said his bonding plan is just a band aid on the major problem. “This doesn’t fix our infrastructure,” he said. “But at least we are moving forward.”

Bids are being let in March for the Route T bridge replacement at Tea, a MoDOT engineer said.