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Single contract aims to fix 800 bridges

Sunday, February 4, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:50 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — With one sweeping motion, the Missouri Department of Transportation is seeking to rectify a statewide safety concern.

Transportation Department officials plan to award a single contract this summer for a $400 million to $600 million project aimed at replacing more than 800 of the 10,200 bridges on Missouri’s state roads.

Jeff Briggs, a spokesman for the department, said initial work for the Safe and Sound Initiative is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2012, after which the contractor will be responsible for maintaining the bridges for 25 years. After that time period, the state would resume bridge maintenance duties.

“They’re worn out,” Briggs said. “They’re obsolete. They’re too narrow. They need attention or else we’d have to close them.”

Briggs said the department expects that a coalition of contractors will organize into a team to submit a single bid.

Briggs blamed the poor condition of the state’s bridges on age and increased and heavier traffic.

Senator Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said most bridges on state-owned roads were built around 1930, and that the transportation department’s previous plan of issuing individual contracts to repair each bridge simply wasn’t getting ahead of the issue.

“The problem is we’re not gaining,” Stouffer said. “When you build a lot of things at the same time, they have a tendency to wear out at the same time. We have a number of bridges that are one grade closer to being closed.”

Briggs said the state has yet to close a bridge, but has placed weight limits on a number of spans.

But some legislators said they are wary about the transportation department’s comprehensive plan.

Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, who also serves on the Transportation Committee, said he’s concerned that the state’s grandiose plan would shorten the list of contractors who could bid on the project.

Briggs said three teams of contractors are in the running: Missouri Bridge Partners, Team United and Partnership Missouri.

Barnitz said he’s worried that the three teams, which are currently reviewing the condition of Missouri’s bridges and will submit proposals this spring, could share information or strategies, and possibly increase the cost of the project.

Yet another concern, Barnitz said, is that the transportation department could award the bid to a team whose contractors have a history of subpar work.

“I’m still reserving judgment with how this will work,” Barnitz said.

Briggs said the transportation department would award the contract to the “best value,” which includes the amount a team bids for the project and the state’s experience with the contractors.

He also said grouping the repairs into one large proposal provides the state with the quickest way to remedy the problem.

And the plan has somewhat of a safety clause built in since the contractor would be responsible for maintaining the bridges for at least 25 years.

“It’s really a guarantee that’s carried by the contractor,” Stouffer said.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, whose northwestern Missouri district is littered with small state-owned bridges, said he’s concerned the proposal will prevent local contractors from construction contracts with the state to repair or replace the bridges. The 16 counties the Republican senator represents are home to 149 bridges that need repairs, according to the transportation department.

“(Local residents) want to make sure that their local communities and their local contractors are all able to be a part of that process,” Lager said. “They just don’t want some firm from out of town to come in and do it all.”

Funds from the federal fuel tax would pay for almost the entire project, Briggs said. State fuel tax dollars, motor vehicle taxes and money generated from vehicle licenses and registrations would fund the remaining costs.

According to a 2001 Bureau of Transportation report, a total 23,604 bridges spanned Missouri’s rivers, streams and valleys. Of those, 6,083 were labeled “structurally deficient” and 2,747 were labeled “functionally obsolete.”

Those statistics include county-owned bridges, which Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said are also in poor condition. Like the state, individual counties have failed to gain on their bridge woes, Burke said, noting that some 70,000 miles of county roads line Missouri.

But unlike the state, counties sometimes are forced to close entire bridges because of their shoddy condition.

“It’s difficult to see progress being made, although I think counties have been doing a lot of good things,” Burke said. “It’s just a monumental task.”

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