Missouri DOT Highlights Bridge Woes Amid Projected Highway Funding Shortage

AASHTO Journal, 20 March 2015

The Missouri Department of Transportation said March 16 it had to close one lane of a busy stretch of Interstate 70 for a sudden bridge repair, and used the event to highlight the state’s infrastructure funding crunch.

MoDOT said a routine inspection of its Lamine River bridge, about nine miles west of Boonville, found a crack in a steel beam that required crews to “take immediate action” to buttress the beam with a temporary support while engineers worked on a permanent fix.

davenichols.jpg Nichols

MoDOT Director Dave Nichols issued a statement that carried a warning. “The damage that developed on the Lamine River bridge on I-70 is symptomatic of Missouri’s transportation funding problem,” he said. “Without continuous investment in rehabilitation and replacement projects, this will keep happening, more and more frequently.”

His agency also notified media that it would have engineers at the site on March 17 for interviews and tours of the repair work, gave reporters directions on how to get there and a contact to schedule interviews. That generated such coverage as a TV report that showed the damaged beam and temporary supports.

“Without additional transportation funding,” Nichols said, “we’ll see more bridges with weight restrictions, and some will need to be closed indefinitely. When that happens, the economic vitality of our state and mobility of Missourians will be compromised.”

Last August, voters rejected a ballot proposal to raise the statewide sales tax to invest more in highway and transit systems. Gov. Jay Nixon later floated an option of tolling about 200 miles of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City, partly to capture revenue from cross-country drivers including interstate truckers.

Nixon also asked the General Assembly, in his Jan. 21 State of the State address, to come up with more highway and bridge funds, but legislation has not emerged so far.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission on Feb. 4 adopted a bare-bones road maintenance program for coming years, as projected highway revenue is expected by 2017 to fall well below levels Nichols said were needed to keep state roads and bridges in current condition.

MoDOT said the I-70 bridge over the Lamine River is about 50 years old, “and like many other bridges on Missouri’s state system, it is showing its age. Unfortunately, MoDOT’s shrinking construction budget means replacing this bridge, and others like it, is not a possibility.”

The department said it is responsible for maintaining nearly 10,400 bridges, and about 600 of them are currently in either “poor or serious condition.” To replace them all “is simply not possible,” given the funding outlook, it said.

The number of ailing bridges is expected to increase significantly, MoDOT’s state bridge engineer told members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission this month. The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune reported March 11 that the engineer, Dennis Heckman, said the number is projected to rise to 1,000 in five years and to 1,500 by 2024.

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