Missouri’s bridges are seeing steady improvements, according to a pair of reports heard by the Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Highways and Transportation Commission.
The reports were presented during the commission’s agenda meeting on Wednesday. A presentation from State Bridge Engineer Travis Koestner covered Missouri’s “Focus on Bridges” program, which began last year with $50 million appropriated for the repair or replacement of 45 bridges in the 2020 fiscal year.
Koestner said the program had seen a promising first year, despite issues such as flooding in the northwestern part of the state as well as inflation from last year’s estimates.
“We’re still hopeful, and still working on the program to try to get within the total we have,” Koestner said. “We have 136 bridges remaining with a $151 million construction budget.”
An annual report on the overall condition of Missouri’s bridges was led by State Bridge Engineer Dennis Heckman. Heckman covered state inspections, public safety, and how bridges fare according to the national standard.
“All bridges are rated good, fair, or poor using federal standards,” said Heckman.”Out of our 10,400 we have 893 ‘poor’ bridges all across the state, in urban areas, rural areas, everywhere.”
Heckman noted that this was the second year in which the state had seen a decrease in the number of poorly rated bridges.
“This fits right in with our goal,” he said. “Our goal was to have around 900 poor bridges. Last year we had 909, and this year we have 883, and we’re happy with the progress.”
Heckman said while poorly rated bridges are still safe to travel across, they are more expensive to maintain and keep open. He also noted the ultimate goal would be around 300 bridges at that level but getting there is a matter of time and budget.
The commission also approved nine projects as part of the governor’s Transportation Cost-Share Program. The program was approved for a $49.7 million dollar budget in January to go toward 19 roadway projects across Missouri in the 2021 fiscal year.
As the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic altered budgets for departments across the board, the operating budget for the project was reduced to $25 million in funding during the restructuring of the budget in the general assembly, according to presenter Doug Hood, the department’s assistant financial services director. Nine projects were recommended for consideration by the commission, including an $8 million interchange along Route 65 in Sedalia and a $5 million roadway project in St. Charles.
The committee also heard a report from MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna, who discussed the high number of traffic fatalities in the past few months despite lower overall traffic volumes, citing a 12 percent increase in fatal accidents this year. McKenna said passengers were not wearing seatbelts in 70 percent of fatal accidents and encouraged MoDOT’s emphasis on safety campaigns.
McKenna also discussed the ways MoDOT continues to offset lost revenue during the pandemic, including slowed hiring, delayed advertising of roadway projects, and a shared-work program allowing employees to work shorter hours and continue drawing a portion of their unemployment benefits.
Other items covered in the meeting included a decision approving a motion to keep health insurance premiums at the same rate for employees and reports from boards on legislation and retirement.
The next Highways and Transportation Commission meeting is set to be scheduled for September.