Senators start talking about highway bridges needing repairs or replacement

A vehicle passes under the closed ramp over U.S. 50 in the tri-level overpass in Jeff City.

A vehicle passes under the closed ramp over U.S. 50 in the tri-level overpass in Jeff City.

Almost 900 state highway bridges need major repairs or replacement, or they’ll have to be closed, state Sen. Mike Kehoe told colleagues last week.

Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee and is a former member of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

He noted Missouri has a total of 10,400 bridges on the state system, not including bridges owned by counties, cities or private parties.

Engineers rate new bridges as a “10,” while bridges that have been closed are rated as a “1,” Kehoe explained, telling colleagues during the Thursday’s Senate session: “We have 894 bridges that are 2s and 3s, which means — and this is not like scare tactics or anything — in the next two or three years, they will get closed.”

That list includes 58 bridges in Mid-Missouri’s 10 counties, with an estimated $49,550,000 replacement cost.

Missouri’s Transportation department estimates it will need $1.4 billion to replace all 894 bridges, which are located throughout the state, Kehoe said, distributing a list of the bridges arranged by each senator’s district.

He raised the issue during a discussion of Sen. Mike Parson’s bill to eliminate sales tax charges when vehicles at least 10 years old are sold — unless the price is more than $15,000.

“It drives me crazy that we continue to pay sales tax on the same product” every time it’s resold, Kehoe told Parson, R-Bolivar. “However, I do have to point something out — in ongoing years, this will be about a $35 million hit to highway funds.”

Kehoe supports a proposal to raise the state’s sales tax by a penny for the next 10 years, with most of the money raised targeted at state highway and bridge projects — but with some of the money given to counties and cities to help with their transportation needs.

The Senate has not debated the proposal, and the House last week discussed the idea for awhile, then tabled it.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’re going to have to deal with the infrastructure in the state of Missouri at some point, in some way,” Parson said, without committing to any specific funding plan.

When asked what $1 million buys MoDOT these days, Customer Relations Director Mara Campbell told the News Tribune in an email: “As you know, we haven’t had a revenue increase for over 20 years, so the purchasing power of the 17-cent (per gallon) gas tax is now around 8 cents!

“And the costs of the common materials we use have gone up 200 percent — such as concrete and asphalt!”

She said MoDOT now spends about $163,000 to resurface one mile of a four-lane highway, while it takes $4.3 million to build one mile of a new section of a four-lane highway.

The average cost of a new bridge is $1 million, Campbell said — unless it’s a major bridge like the two U.S. 54/63 bridges across the Missouri River at Jefferson City — the newer, eastbound, span cost about $25 million to build almost 25 years ago — or the new Stan Musial Veteran’s Memorial Bridge carrying Interstate 70 across the Mississippi River at St. Louis, which opened two months ago and cost about $346 million. (Adding the costs of interchanges and road relocations in both states made the total project cost around $667 million).

Campbell said MoDOT also spends $5.4 million to pick up litter each year, and $14.3 million to keep the medians and rights-of-way mowed.

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