Built in 1960, the bridge was identified as being in “poor” condition by the state. The cost of replacing the bridge is estimated to reach $240 million, a necessary expense, according to project manager Brandi Baldwin.
“This bridge is nearing the end of its surface life,” Baldwin said during the presentation. “In the coming years, we would need to repair the bridge. By providing the new structure, we will prevent the enormous traffic congestion that would have been created by the repair work.”
The bridge has been nicknamed the “lynchpin of America.” It connects Boone and Cooper counties, Kansas City, and St. Louis — and the country as a whole. It carries more than 12 million vehicles a day, according to MoDOT, including more than 3.5 million trucks.
The replacement will be a “design-build” project, meaning one construction team will be handling the build under a single contract. Teams are to begin putting in bids later this week, and a final group will be selected in July. Baldwin said it would expedite the replacement process and allow the department to begin construction by the end of the year.
“The design of a major river project typically takes a full year to complete, and then we would do the bid process and then begin construction a few months after that,” she said. “Here where we’re awarding in July, we will have plans to construct with a few short months after that, and we hope we can break ground this coming fall.”
The project still needs to consider proposals and possible contractors before the beginning of construction. The project’s deadline is set for completion by December 2024, a goal Baldwin said MoDOT hoped to beat.
The project received an $81.2 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant from the federal government to assist with the replacement in 2019 and was the subject of a bonding bill in the legislature. Local communities, including Columbia, donated more than $4 million to bolster the project, according to Baldwin.
Missouri’s bridges and roads are a priority of Gov. Mike Parson’s administration. In 2019 he initiated the Focus on Bridges program, allocating $50 million for bridge repairs for the 2020 fiscal year.
Last year’s annual report on Missouri bridges from MoDOT’s Highways and Transportation Commission showed 893 “poor” bridges across the state out of a total of 10,400.