As the rest of the world came to a screeching halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Missouri Department of Transportation stayed busy completing more 541 projects statewide and issuing $100 million more in payments to contractors in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the department’s annual report released earlier this month.
“Despite all of the challenges of the past year, we were able to record the highest level of construction output in years,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said in an interview with The Missourian.
Among MoDOT’s successes this past year was the continued progress of its “Focus on Bridges” program, a $351 million statewide effort to repair or replace 250 poor condition bridges. Of those bridges, 152 are under contract for design-build, with 10 more bids to be announced last month and 18 are under construction. Work on 99 bridges has been completed.
Nine percent of the state’s bridges remain in poor condition.
“Missouri is blessed with 1,200 miles of major rivers with 206 major bridges that are more than 1,000 feet in length. The economic impact of those bridges to our state is more than $7 billion. If any one of those bridges was to be closed because of safety the economic effect would be felt across the state,” McKenna said.
Among the major bridges planned for replacement in 2021 are the Buck O’Neil Bridge in Kansas City, a $247.5 million project, and Interstate 70 bridges at Rocheport, a $240 million project.
The biggest project and the one closest to Franklin County is the Interstate 270 project. The project focuses on I-270 from I-70 on the west to west of Riverview Drive on the east. It will cost a total of $278 million as MoDOT looks to replace aging infrastructure, including multiple interchanges and an outdated outer road system, and adding new lanes to the interstate.
The project is expected to be completed in 2023.
One of the biggest challenges that MoDOT faced this past year, according to McKenna, was the $38 million decline in motor vehicle fuel tax revenue.
In response, approximately 1,000 MoDOT employees and officials opted to take a temporary pay cut from mid-June to mid-July. McKenna took a 10 percent pay cut.
The department also cut back on planned spending for new equipment, materials and supplies and slowed new hiring efforts.
These actions helped the department save $14 million toward the deficit caused by COVID-19, according to the annual report.
McKenna said the loss of revenue will only exasperate the transportation department’s $125 billion wish list.
“Reduced revenues, rising construction costs, and inflation complicate our ability to give Missourians safe roads and bridges,” he added.
According to the National Performance Report Card, 91 percent of Missouri’s 5,500 miles of major roadways are in good condition, while 81 percent of the minor roadways are in good condition. Minor roads account for more than 17,000 miles of highway in the state’s transportation network.
McKenna said he is not surprised by the rating, though acknowledges the public may have different opinions.
“The short answer is that we are better stewards of the public’s tax dollars to keep investing in our good roads than to go chasing down the roads that are in the worst condition,” he said.
For example, 76 percent of all motor vehicle traffic in Missouri is on the state’s interstates. Ninety percent of those roads are in good condition, according to McKenna.
The quality of the state’s two-lane lettered routes varies across the state.