Heartland News Investigates: Bad bridges

Heartland News Investigates: Bad bridges

MISSOURI (KFVS) - How safe are bridges in the state of Missouri?

According to the standards set by the Federal Highway Administration, nearly 900 bridges are rated poor in the Show-Me State.

"We just have so many bridges, I mean, they got a lot of age on them," David Wyman said.

Wyman is the area Engineer for MoDOT's Southeast District.

Even more fall in the that category every single year making it hard for MoDOT crews to keep up.

"We need to invest more in our infrastructure because a lot of people take their infrastructure for granted," Wyman said.

For starters, Missouri has one of the largest systems of roads and bridges, but ranked 47th in the nation when it comes to funding.

It has some, like Linda Haller, concerned.

She worries about the bridge on Highway 51 just outside of Zalma, Missouri.

"I would rather not drive across it," Haller said. "I feel like the bridge kind of shakes when you go across it."

It is a one lane bridge built in the 1929.

"That was a long time ago," Haller said. "I realize it has a lot of character and some people would say it's the epitome or that time, but I feel like we need an update bad."

She said she's tried for year to get MoDOT to replace the bridge.

"I just kind of gave up," Haller said. "You know, you feel like that, you know, how often do you to do this and you don't get anywhere."

It's a challenge MoDOT struggles with daily.

"It's kind of a zero-sum game," David Wyman said.

Wyman is the area Engineer for MoDOT's Southeast District.

He said MoDOT is responsible for maintaining nearly 10,400 bridges, 60-percent are still standing beyond the intended lifespan.

Bridges are inspected on scale of 1 to 9.

The higher the number, the better the condition.

If it goes below a 3, it's shutdown.

Bridges are typically inspected every 2 years and annually if it's advanced in age.

Inspectors look at three specific areas: the substructure (what goes into the ground), the superstructure (the beams that go across) and the roadway deck itself.

Wyman says MoDOT is replacing bridges at a good rate, but they're dropping into poor condition at the same rate.

"That's a problem," Wyman said. "It's hard because there's so many competing interests for funding.  The one thing about transportation is that it affects so many people."

Just think about how many bridges you cross in a single day.

MoDOT gets 50-percent of it's funding from the state fuel tax.

25-percent comes from licensing fees, like when you renew your license.

The remaining 25-percent comes from the sales tax on vehicles.

"We're spending more than we're taking in. Again, just like your home budget, we've got a reserve.  We have built up a reserve. That reserve was necessary, but we're spending down that reserve in-order to keep our expenditures up high enough to take care of our system," Wyman said.

MoDOT officials know there is problem with sustainability of infrastructure funding.

Wyman said tolling is one option that would help, however it would require the passage of Legislation in order to enact it.

According to Wyman, legislators have never been in favor of tolling as a good option.

Inflation is the biggest obstacle, with the cost of things like concrete, asphalt, and steel, some of their biggest needs, all going up.

Wyman says MoDOT has made adjustments in order to counter that additional cost.

"Our maintenance forces have to spend a lot of time out here working on this bridge patching potholes and doing things like that," Wyman said "So, this is an instance where we feel like we need to program this bridge for some work so that we can eliminate the maintenance concerns and the maintenance call outs."

MoDOT is also integrating new techniques.

"One of the things we're doing now is we're putting an epoxy coated paint on the rebar that we put in our new bridge decks and so it's kind of one of those things that we feel like it's going to increase the lifespan of it," Wyman said.

Only time will tell, but if a bridge can hold up 80-plus years with construction techniques from the 1930s, there's no telling what this can do.

As for Linda Haller, she still holding out hope for a new bridge over Castor River.

"I wouldn't want to call them out on it, but I would like to present it again for their consideration, so, and did I ask them several times and did I have them down here…yes," Haller said.

Wyman said the Highway 51 bridge over the Castor River is safe and currently schedule to be replaced in 2020.

In regards to other bridges of interest across the Heartland.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says there are no current plans to replace the Cairo Bridge that crosses that Ohio River.

However, it is inspected annually with a detailed inspection every other year.

A study done in 2014 found the price to replace the bridge would be about 230-million dollars.

Meanwhile, an environmental study is underway on the Chester Bridge over the Mississippi River to develop a safe and reliable Route 51 River crossing.

The Chester Bridge is currently listed in poor condition and too narrow by today's design standards.

No word on when the environmental study will be complete.

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