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story.lead_photo.caption MoDOT Central District Engineer Michelle Watkins prepares to introduce Missouri politicians Sen. Jeanie Riddle, Rep. Kent Haden, Gov. Mike Parson and Rep. Travis Fitzwater. On Thursday, the group visited a Callaway County bridge slated for replacement in the coming year. Photo by Helen Wilbers / News Tribune.

WILLIAMSBURG — Gov. Mike Parson picked an unusual stage for his most recent visit to Callaway County.

He stood with several other state politicians on an island of freshly flattened gravel under the chilly open sky, backed by the Route D bridge over Interstate 70 with trucks roaring past. That ramshackle, 56-year-old bridge is about to become part of Missouri's biggest bipartisan successes in 2019, he said.

"It's going to be totally replaced," Parson explained Thursday. "This wouldn't have happened without our Legislature."

In August, Missouri politicians in the state House, Senate and governor's office worked together to approve $50 million from the state's general revenue to repair or replace 45 of the state's bridges as part of the "Focus on Bridges" program.

"This is a big deal," state Rep. Travis Fitwater, R-Holts Summit, said. "We want to keep our roads safe."

Parson said the project fits into his wider goal of improving Missouri's infrastructure. Economic development and a well-maintained infrastructure go hand-in-hand, he said.

"People perish for a lack of vision, and I'm grateful for our governor, who has a vision," state Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said. "Our economy can't do what we need without safe roads and bridges."

With 10,384 bridges to choose from, Missouri Department of Transportation prioritized older bridges that see a high volume of traffic and serve as part of important routes.

MoDOT Central District Engineer Michelle Watkins said this bridge definitely qualifies. Built in 1963, it currently sees about 1,400 vehicles per day, including commuters heading toward the Callaway Energy Center and farmers hauling their crops.

"I have friends all over this area who depend on this overpass to get their crops to market," state Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, said.

At its regular monthly meeting last week, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved a contract to replace the bridge. The contract was awarded to Emery Sapp and Sons, which submitted the low bid of $1,575,022. That's well below the $2.1 million MoDOT estimated it would spend on the project, Watkins said.

Parson said because the state has a list of 45 priority bridges, MoDOT can bid out multiple bridge projects at once, saving some serious money. He added 42 of the 45 bridges should be under construction by Jan. 1.

"We're going to invest our money wisely and go to work," he said.

He said the state government is also looking into refinancing some bonds at the current favorable rates and landing federal infrastructure funding. Some flexibility in finding funding sources is necessary, he said, because Missourians have been historically averse to passing additional taxes — including the type of use tax or gas tax that might normally be used to fund infrastructure improvement.

"The day's going to come when the people of the state need to make a decision on a tax," Parson said. "There's a lot more work to be done. We have to figure out how to maintain our roads with what we've got."

Callaway County commissioners also attended the bridge tour and press conference. Commissioner Randy Kleindienst touted the difference replacing the bridge will make.

"They're going to put in a slightly taller overpass, so if (MoDOT) needs to put down more asphalt on the road beneath they can do that," he said. "It's going to be wide enough to compensate if they ever decide to add an extra lane on I-70."

He said he also appreciates the governor taking time to visit in person.

"It's proof we matter to this governor," he said.

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