State bridge plan wins approval

Monday, August 27, 2007 | 10:31 p.m. CDT; updated 8:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A single consortium of contracts would get responsibility for maintaining more than 800 bridges in Missouri under a plan approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on Monday.

If approved in the legislature’s special session, the bridge renovations would take place during a five-year construction period and a subsequent 25-year maintenance period. If at any point the bridges being renovated fall short of expectations, then the payments to the contractor will cease, said the bill’s House of Representatives sponsor, Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-St. Louis County.

The decision for a single contract to repair or rebuild 802 bridges was made to address safety issues quickly and avoid high costs, St. Onge said. The state would escape inflation rates by completing the construction at today’s prices.

The proposal, approved last week by the House, would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to solicit bids for a single contract. A group of private companies would compete to undertake repairs or replacement of the bridges and then provide maintenance for the next 25 years.

This plan would not require any payment by the state until after the five-year construction period. The Federal Bridge Replacement Fund will provide $130 million for this project, St. Onge said. But the total cost is still unknown.

As the only senator who voted against the bill in committee, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said she had several questions about the financial details that were not answered.

“You don’t get something for nothing,” Bray said after the meeting. “There’s something they’re not telling us.”

The two teams of contractors that will bid on this 30-year project have been formed. Both have expressed interest in working with Missouri-based contracting companies.

Kevin Keith, chief engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation, spoke in support of the bill. He said approximately 1,093 bridges are structurally deficient, and there are plans in the works to address the remaining bridges.

Keith said this approach, calling for a single, multi-decade contract for a package of bridges, would be the first in the nation.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday.

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