554 Missouri bridges to be replaced in $487M project

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 6:52 p.m. CDT; updated 9:38 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 21, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri is to replace 554 bridges by the end of 2013 under a $487 million project awarded by the state transportation commission Thursday.

The commission gave the bridge project to a construction team led by Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Western Company, which has partnered with Evansville, Ind.-based Traylor Bros. Inc. and Columbia, S.C.-based United Contractors Inc.

Kiewit executive vice president Scott Cassels told Missouri transportation commissioners he was excited about the prospect of working simultaneously across Missouri because he would build things that will employ many local construction workers.

Cassels said that after about nine months, the construction team expects to complete a new bridge every two days. Work on most of the bridges is to be completed within 45 days.

"This is not a tough job on construction if you have that kind of support," Cassels said. "This is a tough job on logistics, and we're going to have to kind of think differently."

Replacing 554 bridges is part of the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program, which was first outlined in September 2006. The initial plan was to award a single contract to fix 802 of the state's worst spans within five years and then maintain them for the next 25 years.

But the national credit crisis forced Missouri to scrap that plan when financing options for contractors dwindled and the costs rose. Instead, the transportation commission split the project into two categories based on whether bridges needed to be replaced or repaired.

For the 248 bridges that just need repair, the projects were bundled into packages of three to 15 bridges. Work on 20 of those spans has been completed and an additional 29 are under construction.

Missouri's efforts to fix problematic bridges gained national attention after the 2007 collapse of a Minneapolis highway bridge killed 13 people and injured 145 others. Missouri has more bridges in poor condition than all but three other states.

Missouri is paying for the bridge construction by issuing bonds, of which $50 million will be repaid each year using federal transportation money that is to come to the state.

Fixing and replacing all 802 bridges is expected to cost $700 million.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn said Missouri is saving millions of dollars by locking in future construction costs at current prices. But he warned that more must be spent to keep the state's roughly 10,000 bridges in check.

"This is a massive bridge program that's going to repair bridges that are just in horrible shape," Rahn said. "Obviously from the standpoint of these 802 bridges, we're going to be better off at the end of the program than before for those bridges. But overall our entire bridge inventory is going to be in a worse condition."

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