The state budget slated for final approval this week still includes a bonding plan to repair 250 mostly rural bridges around Missouri.
The House-Senate budget conference committee on Tuesday approved the idea, which is a modified version of what Gov. Mike Parson first proposed during his State of the State address in January.
Under the proposal, the state would spend $50 million from general revenue to repair or replace 35 of those bridges, then sell bonds to pay for the work on the other 215 bridges.
The state would repay the bonds over seven years.
"We have great needs in transportation — we have over $8 billion of unfunded needs in this state," Transportation Director Patrick McKenna told the News Tribune. "So anything we do that actually brings project-specific solutions is a step in the right direction."
He said the bridges bonding plan "is a critical need for the state," adding: "We really appreciate how difficult it was for both the House and the Senate — the General Assembly — to work together to find some compromise."
The work on the 35 bridges could begin this year — but selling the bonds won't happen right away, because the budget plan says the sale can't begin unless the state wins a grant from the federal government that could help replace the Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River at Rocheport, between Columbia and Boonville.
"We applied for that grant in March, and it typically takes six to seven months," McKenna explained. "These are competitive from all over the country (and) the U.S. Department of Transportation really does a thorough job going through them."
That means the state won't know until September or October whether Missouri will win a grant.
If the state gets the grant, the bonds can be sold and plans finalized for the rural bridges' repair or replacement.
But even after the notification — if it comes — "there are a lot of pieces that have to be put in place" before construction can begin on the Rocheport project, McKenna said.
And one of the variables, he explained, would be the size of the grant, since a partial grant would require the state to find other funding plans before the project could begin.
The state's grant application says requests for proposals for the new bridge would be issued in June 2020, he said, "And that's when the clock starts ticking. There is time."
Construction on the new bridge likely would begin in 2021 and be finished in 2024, McKenna said.
"This is a very complicated project," he explained. "It's a 3,000-foot bridge.
"It's really one of our largest structures in our state."
Meanwhile, he said, emergency repairs on the existing bridge were completed late Monday night, so I-70 traffic can use both lanes in each direction across the bridge.