Missouri ranks 7th in structurally deficient bridges
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Missouri ranks 7th in structurally deficient bridges

Date: December 10, 2013
By: Matt Kalish
State Capitol Bureau
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Intro: 
Missouri ranked 7th in the country in the number of bridges with structural deficiencies. I tagged along with one MO-DOT bridge engineer to hear about one of Missouri's oldest bridges.
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Wrap: Southeast of Ashland surrounded by rolling hills and crossing the Cedar River is a type of bridge you don't see anymore.

For starters the nearly 100-year-old county roadway is made of wood.

Not concrete or asphalt, but lumber similar to the tall trees surrounding the structure. The dozen or so wooden planks making up the road are in good shape but there are parts when you can see straight through to the creek.

The bottom of the nearly 100-year-old structure is not in as good of shape.

The steel support beams holding up the wooden road are being eaten away by decades of exposure to the elements and are covered in a healthy layer of rust.

Logs and debris are accumulating at the piers, eating away at the concrete that's shielding the steel support beams from Mother Nature.

The Missouri transportation department is responsible for inspecting this bridge near Ashland and all bridges in the state, including county bridges.

This bridge, however, is owned by Boone County. The county is responsible for maintaining this structure even though the state inspects the bridge.

State engineer Jeff Madsen says often times counties do not have the resources to maintain these bridges including this one in Boone County.

Actuality:  MADSEN3.WAV
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Description: "A lot of times your counties are not as, don't have a huge staff so they don't have the ability to go out and remove drift."

Yet Madsen says the bridge is still open.

Actuality:  MADSEN2.WAV
Run Time:  00:12
Description: "This kinda stuff is absolutely fixable. You can actually buy these new stringers and replace these old ones with new ones. The problem is it is expensive and do you want to spend that kind of money on a bridge that's this old."

This bridge along with over 3,000 other bridges across the state is classified as structurally deficient.

According to the U-S Department of Transportation, structurally deficient bridges require more maintenance and eventually will need to be replaced.

In the last few years parts of the Ashland bridge have been replaced including one of its anchor piers. County officials have also reduced the maximum weight that can cross the bridge due to safety concerns.

Boone County keeps the bridge open because land owners near the bridge use it.

Madsen says that if this was a state controlled bridge, it would be closed.

Actuality:  MADSEN4.WAV
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Description: "We wouldn't allow a bridge to be three tons. That's not serviceable to traffic that needs it."

Transportation officials say the loss of revenue has forced counties to put off crucial repairs or rely on private contractors instead of their in house staff to preform bridge inspections.

State and county transportation departments receive almost all of their funding through the gas tax.

A model, according to Senator Mike Kehoe, that isn't working anymore.

Actuality:  MIKEK2.WAV
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Description: "That model has hit the perfect storm because you have vehicle manufactures building vehicles that are in high demand with incredible gas mileage."

Kehoe is the former chairman of the state highway commission and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Transportation committee. 

After last year's attempt to raise the sales tax one cent to improve the state's roadways failed in the state Senate, Kehoe won't be pushing through similar legislation in 2014.

Actuality:  MIKEK1.WAV
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Description: "The end result was it couldn't make it across the finish line and I don't know if there's a reason to try that process again."

So while the path to fixing the Cedar Creek bridge and Missouri's other structurally deficient bridges might be blocked in Jefferson City, a route less traveled through Missouri voters looks viable.

A ballot measure is circulating the state that would let voters decide whether to increase the sales tax one cent to fund infrastructure improvements. State representative Andrew Koenig says the proposed tax increase is too much for Missourians.

The earliest it could be on the ballot is November 2014.

Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Matt Kalish.


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