Missouri bridge project touted as first under stimulus package

Tuesday, February 17, 2009 | 4:16 p.m. CST; updated 5:08 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TUSCUMBIA — Missouri barely waited for President Barack Obama to sign the $787 billion stimulus package before it started using the money Tuesday for construction on what was believed to be the nation's first stimulus-fueled project.

Meeting at the site of a crumbling 76-year-old bridge, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission voted just seconds after Obama signed the bill to approve the bridge replacement along with three other projects.

Within a minute, transportation commissioners handed a check for more than $200,000 to a contractor who had workers standing by. Gov. Jay Nixon sounded a horn, and a backhoe operator began digging a hole for a pylon of the new bridge while others began working on the old bridge.

Missouri Transportation Department Director Pete Rahn said the rush was intended to show that spending money on infrastructure projects can quickly help spur the economy.

"This is a great project," Rahn said. "It's something desperately needed, and there is no question it would not be addressed without stimulus money."

A spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a trade group for the nation's state transportation departments, said the organization wasn't aware of any other states that were ready to start projects using the stimulus money.

The nation's first stimulus-triggered project is the replacement of a 1933 bridge that had to be closed to large trucks in 2007 because of structural concerns. A badly deteriorating steel beam was identified during inspections conducted after the deadly Minnesota bridge collapse.

The 1,000-foot long bridge is part of a state highway route that crosses the Osage River — a tributary of the Missouri River — about 30 miles southwest of the state capital in Jefferson City. The project is expected to cost $8.5 million.

But it's not exactly on a well-worn path. Only a couple hundred people live in Tuscumbia, the county seat of sparsely populated Miller County. It's so remote that Missouri transportation officials brought a special satellite truck to allow highway commissioners to meet and award the bridge construction contract.

The construction is to be handled by the Kansas City division of APAC-Kansas City. A company spokeswoman said the bridge project is likely to employ 25 to 30 mostly local workers.

The state transportation commission also plans to start work quickly on three other highway projects: $14.6 million for road resurfacing north of Kansas City in Clinton County; $8.7 million to build passing lanes on a highway near Springfield; and $18.4 million to repair pavement in two rural southeast Missouri counties.

Speaking to reporters earlier Tuesday, Nixon described the bridge project as a first step and said he intends on Wednesday to outline more plans for how Missouri will use the federal stimulus money.

Missouri has been aggressive in planning for the federal money. In mid-December, the Transportation Department unveiled 34 potential projects, and last week it suggested a few more potential ideas in case other states are unable to use all their transportation money.

The entire stimulus package includes $46 billion for transportation, and Missouri is expected to get $822 million. In all, Missouri could get more than $4.3 billion from the stimulus package, according to a review prepared by the Federal Funds Information for States, which is a service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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