Engineers give Missouri dismal ratings

A new national report said the nation’s overall infrastructure has improved over the last four years — climbing to a D+ grade.

And, for the first time, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ national “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” also includes information about initiatives and innovations “that are making a difference” for infrastructure in the 50 states.

In Missouri, the national report said:

• The 17.3 cents/gallon state motor fuels tax ranks 46th in the nation.

• The state has the 16th highest percentage (3,528 or 27.67 percent) of deficient bridges, when compared to other states.

• In 2009, the highway vehicle-miles traveled (by all vehicles, whether in-state or multi-state travelers) was about 11,819 miles per-person — seventh highest in the nation.

• Driving on roads needing repair costs Missouri motorists $1.594 million a year in extra repairs and operating costs — about $380 extra per motorist — and around 31 percent of roads are in “poor or mediocre quality.”

• “To maintain and upgrade Missouri systems in the next 20 years, $7.1 billion is needed for drinking water and $5.8 billion is needed for wastewater.”

• The state has 1,588 “high hazard” dams — but only five full-time employees in the dam safety program.

Dave Nichols, the state Transportation department’s chief engineer, said: “Please

realize that the numbers in this report are not just MoDOT roads and bridges; all city and county roads and bridges are included in the (report’s) numbers.”

He added: “Missouri has a large transportation system that has many, many needs. At current funding levels — an annual construction budget of about $700 million — (MoDOT) can maintain our system of roads and bridges at about the condition they are today. But we can’t do much else. ...

“The reality is that over time, the condition of our system will deteriorate.”

The national report based its grade on 16 categories, including aviation, bridges, inland waterways, levees, ports, rail, roads, public transit, dams, drinking water, hazardous waste, solid waste, wastewater, energy production and delivery, schools and public parks and recreation facilities.

The new national report doesn’t include letter grades for the individual states.

“Our Missouri Section is working on one, and it should be released at the end of April or in early May,” ASCE Spokesman Clark Barrineau explained, in an e-mail.

The national report’s “Raising the Grades Success Stories” for Missouri include completion of the:

• Two-year rebuilding of a portion of I-64/U.S. 40 in St. Louis City and County, replacing deteriorating sections of an 80-year-old roadway with some additional lanes, improved interchanges and new overpasses — and finished a month early and $11 million under budget.

• kcICON project, which widened 4.7 miles of I-29/35 north of downtown Kansas City, including a new bridge over the Missouri River, resulting in improved driver-safety and reduced congestion — and finished more than six months ahead of schedule.

The national report also cites as a “success” the controversial, 2011 destruction of four miles of the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri, which resulted in the flooding of 130,000 acres of “prime” farmland.

Barrineau provided a write-up explaining why that’s considered a “success,” noting the levees’ destruction was added to the plans eight decades earlier, after the “disastrous” Mississippi River flooding in 1927.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed the Birds Point — New Madrid Floodway system to divert water from the river during major flood events, protect communities, notably Cairo, Illinois,” that write-up noted. “Unlike other spillways on the Mississippi, the Birds Point — New Madrid Floodway was designed without floodgates.

“Instead, the floodway is operated by a controlled destruction of the levee, either with explosives or by overtopping. ... As designed, the strategic controlled release of the water (in May 2011) avoided a potentially devastating unplanned levee failure, and public safety was ensured. (While) 130,000 acres of farmland were destroyed, communities upstream were saved.”

But Missouri politicians opposed the plan even before the Corps intentionally breached the levee.

They filed, and lost, a federal lawsuit to block the destruction, with U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. ruling that the Corps had the power and authority to follow its 1937 plans.

And, almost two years later, state officials still want the Corps of Engineers to rebuild the demolished levee at least to the 62-foot level it had been before the 2011 demolition.

The complete ASCE report can be found at www.infrastructurereportcard.org

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