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Kan. Highway Commission Delays Decision on Bridge

Sat December 01, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Margaret Stafford - ASSOCIATED PRESS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) State transportation officials on Nov. 13 postponed awarding a contract for a project to fix 802 of Missouri’s worst bridges within five years.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission was scheduled to choose between two contractors that have submitted proposals for the project. The commission plans to award a single 30-year contract.

But it’s waiting for a recommendation from the Missouri Department of Transportation. And department Director Pete Rahn told the commission that his agency needed between 30 and 60 more days to study the more than 700,000 documents submitted by the two contractors. Rahn said he believes the department will be ready to submit a recommendation to the commission within two months.

Rahn said the final submission date was Nov. 8, giving the department only eight days to study the documents before Nov. 13’s meeting.

“We have never gone through a process quite this complex and we were really overly optimistic in what we could do in a very limited amount of time,” Rahn said. “Turns out we needed more than eight days.”

The Transportation Department estimates construction costs of between $400 million and $600 million, but the state could end up paying more than twice that because of financing and maintenance costs.

The state would start paying the contractor only after all the repairs were completed, and the contractor would have to maintain the bridges for the next 25 years.

Commissioner Bill McKenna said the Missouri program is being watched nationwide because of its innovative approach and “I for one want to be sure we get it right.”

None of the commissioners objected to delaying the decision, agreeing with McKenna that it was best to be cautious on what will be the single largest financial decision a state transportation commission has ever made.

The project requires the winning contractor to secure its own private financing. The state would then use at least one-third of its annual federal bridge dollars to pay the contractor.

“I think we are all saying that we want to do the responsible thing,” commission Chairman Jim Anderson said. “Haste makes waste in a lot of cases, and we don’t want that to happen.”

Of Missouri’s 24,024 bridges, nearly 20 percent, or 4,595, are structurally deficient, according to a 2006 Federal Highway Administration report, meaning the state has more bridges in poor condition than all but three states — Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

The plan largely addresses bridges that are less than 300 feet long, without environmental concerns and without requiring changes to the approaching roads.

Almost all of the bridges included in Missouri’s plan are in poor or serious condition, with many close to closure because of cracks and deterioration.

Even if the project is successful, 171 other Missouri bridges in serious or poor condition would not be repaired.

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