Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says the bridge over Happy Sac Creek on Highway AD outside St. Clair is the worst one he has seen on his statewide tour thus far.
Parson inspected the bridge with members of the Missouri Department of Transportation, state and local officials Thursday in what was his first trip to Franklin County since taking over as governor on June 1.
Looking at the underside of the bridge, large pieces of concrete are missing and portions of the reinforcing rebar are now exposed to the elements and are rusting.
“People drive on this bridge every day and think it’s a very safe bridge,” Parson said. “We’re not done with the tour yet, but I haven’t seen one as bad as this. This is not a problem that is going to go away. There is a reason this is one of the top priority bridges.”
The governor is traveling across the state selling his proposed $350 million bonding program to replace 250 ailing bridges statewide within the next 15 years.
“I didn’t go to Jefferson City just to talk about things,” Parson said. “I’m here to try and find solutions.”
Parson added infrastructure and workforce development are two major areas he is focusing on and key to the future growth of the state.
Last November, Missouri voters rejected a proposed 10-cent gasoline sales tax increase, leaving officials with the task of finding a funding source to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
“The voters said no to a tax increase and we have to respect their will,” Parson said. “We have to find a funding solution without raising taxes to put a Band-Aid on this major problem. There is not a district anywhere in the state that won’t benefit from this bridge replacement program.”
Overall, the 2020-2023 bridge replacement plan encompasses 250 bridges in 209 individual projects.
The proposal is estimated to cost $344,800,000.
Parson explained by tackling the 250 bridges in this separate plan, with borrowed bonds, it will remove them from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP), allowing even more projects to be added, including possibly the Highway 47 widening.
The STIP outlines upcoming road and bridge projects in five-year increments, securing funding for projects.
“It’s important to understand the STIP,” Parson said. “By taking this $350 million out of the STIP it will allow other projects to move up.”
The bridge projects in the governor’s plan range from as low as $340,000 up to $4.4 million statewide.
The bridge highlighted during Thursday’s visit was already on the STIP for 2020, with $2,721,000 earmarked from the state.
It will now be encompassed into the governor’s new bridge plan.
“This is a 15-year investment for bridges that will last 50 to 75 years,” Parson said. “Those are the kinds of investments you make when you’re using taxpayer dollars.”
Since his initial announcement during the State of the State address in mid-January, Parson said overall the reaction to the bridge replacement plan has been good.
“These are long-term projects with short-term expense,” he said. “I’m optimistic the Legislature is going to get something done during this session. I think we are going to get this over the finish line.”
Parson stressed the support the program is getting from Franklin County legislators, especially Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who will be pushing the bridge replacement program through.
Until then, Parson will continue his push for the program and let the legislative process run its course and isn’t in a rush.
Missouri has 922 bridges the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) lists as being in poor condition and 60 percent of the state’s bridges are beyond their original intended life.
In addition to the Highway AD bridge, two others on the governor’s list are located in Franklin County.
In 2023, $1,347,000 is slated for a bridge replacement on Highway HH over Calvey Creek near Catawissa.
The largest project in Franklin County also is scheduled for 2023 with $4,314,000 proposed for bridge (overpass) rehabilitation on Highways 47 and 30 over Interstate 44.