Two leaders of the Missouri General Assembly, both of whom are outspoken advocates for adequate transportation funding, appeared before the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission yesterday during its monthly meeting in Poplar Bluff.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said, “We need a 21st-century road network to take advantage of our state’s geography and our roads, rivers and railroads.”
Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, had similar sentiments. “Missouri is the crossroads of America,” he said, “and transportation is a great economic development tool for us. But with the funding struggle, how are we going to continue to attract new businesses and allow existing business to thrive and expand?”
He added that because of the time it takes to plan, design and construct highway and bridge projects, a long-term, predictable funding solution is needed.
Commission Chairman Steve Miller told both legislators that the Commission looks forward to working with them during the legislative session that begins in January.
Also in attendance were Rep. Don Rone (R-Portageville), Rep. Steve Cookson (R-Poplar Bluff), Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) and staffers for U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt.
Critical Condition Bridges – State Bridge Engineer Dennis Heckman and Southeast District Area Engineer Dave Wyman described for the Commission the local impacts that “critical-condition” bridges can have on communities.
Heckman explained the bridge rating system, where a new bridge is a ‘9’ and a closed bridge is a ‘2.’ In MoDOT’s nomenclature, condition 3 and 4 bridges are considered to be in critical condition. There are 101 such bridges in the Southeast District and 641 statewide – 50 more than a year ago.
|Following a lane reduction and weight restriction on the Route 19 bridge over Sinking Creek in Shannon County, a temporary bridge was put into place in May 2015.
Wyman described how each is important to the area it serves:
- Route 19 over Sinking Creek in Shannon County – crucial to the local logging industry.
- Route Z in Stoddard County – five critical condition bridges on this route that are vital to support local agriculture and provide access to the Bootheel’s only rice mill.
- Route 91 in Stoddard County – also has multiple critical condition bridges that are important to agriculture, access to the SEMO port and healthcare services for area residents.
- Route 49 in Wayne County – an 86-year old bridge ensures necessary access to a granite quarry at Gad’s Hill.
- Business 60 in Poplar Bluff – a bridge in town is important to local schools and emergency services.
- Route 51 Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River – the aging structure is important to businesses on both sides of the river. If it were to be closed, an 88-mile detour is required.
Heckman told the Commission that to get ahead of the curve, MoDOT should be replacing more than 100 bridges per year; however, available resources are allowing only 30-40 annual bridge projects.
Public Presentations – Scott Spencer, president of First Community Bank and a member of the Highway 67 Corporation, called for MoDOT to take the lead to four-lane the last 12 miles of U.S. Route 67 from south of Poplar Bluff to Arkansas.
He noted the 50 miles that had been completed since 2005 from Fredericktown to Poplar Bluff were made possible by passage of a one-half-cent sales tax by local voters.
Chairman Miller said, “Poplar Bluff worked hand-in-hand with us. They deserve to be applauded for that. It certainly gets our attention with our limited funds when a community finds a way to make a project happen.”
Jeff Cowen, presiding commissioner of Shannon County, thanked MoDOT and the Commission for the installation of a temporary bridge over Sinking Creek on Route 19. He called for a permanent replacement, and planning and programming of replacement of two additional nearby bridges, as soon as possible. Route 19 in the Eminence area serves Round Springs State Park, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways and a new state park under construction.
Consideration of Bids for Transportation Improvements – State Design Engineer Eric Schroeter reported to the Commission the results of the September 25 bid opening. MoDOT received 65 bids on 18 calls. The Commission awarded contracts to the low bidders on all but three projects (in Butler, Callaway and Cass Counties) where bids were deemed to be excessive. Action on one project was delayed pending receipt of additional information.
Planning and Environmental Studies – Schroeter described the processes that must be followed in order to have projects ready to deliver when funds are available. He said there is a need to provide a balance between taking care of the existing system and being prepared to deliver strategic major projects.