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Mo. Bridge Project Touted as First Under Stimulus

Fri February 20, 2009 - National Edition
Chris Blank

TUSCUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri barely waited for President Barack Obama to sign the $787 billion stimulus package before it started using the money Feb. 17 for construction on what was believed to be the nation’s first stimulus-fueled project.

Meeting at the foot of a crumbling, 76-year-old bridge, members of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission monitored Obama’s bill signing by video and voted just seconds later to approve the bridge replacement and three other projects.

Within a minute, transportation commissioners handed a check for more than $200,000 to a contractor who had workers standing by. Gov. Jay Nixon sounded a horn, and a backhoe operator began digging a hole for a support beam of the new bridge while others began working on the old bridge.

Missouri Transportation Department Director Pete Rahn said the rush was intended to show that spending money on infrastructure projects can quickly help spur the economy.

“This is a great project,’’ Rahn said. “It’s something desperately needed, and there is no question it would not be addressed without stimulus money.’’

A spokesman for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a trade group for the nation’s state transportation departments, said the organization wasn’t aware of any other states that were ready to start projects using the stimulus money.

The bridge being replaced in central Missouri was built in 1933 and was closed to large trucks in 2007 because of structural concerns. A badly deteriorating steel beam was identified during inspections conducted after the deadly Minnesota bridge collapse.

The 1,084-ft. bridge carries traffic on Missouri 17 across the Osage River — a tributary of the Missouri River — about 30 miles southwest of the state Capitol in Jefferson City. The new bridge will be expanded by 8 ft. (2.4 m) to a total of 28 ft. (8.5 m) wide and shortened to 970 ft. (295.6 m). It’s expected to be completed in September 2010 at a cost of $8.5 million.

But it’s not exactly on a well-worn path. Only a couple hundred people live in Tuscumbia, the county seat of sparsely populated Miller County. It’s so remote that Missouri transportation officials brought a special satellite truck to allow highway commissioners to meet and award the bridge construction contract.

The construction is to be handled by APAC-Kansas City, a division of Atlanta-based Oldcastle Materials Inc. A company spokeswoman said the bridge project is likely to employ 25 to 30 mostly local workers.

The state transportation commission also approved contracts on three other highway projects: $14.6 million to resurface Interstate 35 north of Kansas City in Clinton County; $8.7 million to build passing lanes on a U.S. 60 southwest of Springfield; and $18.4 million to repair pavement on I-55 in two southeast Missouri counties.

In all, the four projects approved Feb. 17 are expected to support more than 1,400 jobs in construction and related industries, Rahn said.

To move so quickly on the construction projects, the transportation commission met without giving 24 hours notice as required under Missouri’s open-meetings laws. Commissioner Mike Kehoe started Feb. 17’s meeting by citing an exception for quicker meetings when it is impossible or impractical for public entities to give timely notice.

“In order for the first of Missouri’s projects funded by the federal economic recovery act to be put under contract and construction as soon as possible to help address our economic crisis, the full 24-hour notice was not practical,’’ Kehoe said.

Soon, the commission is to open bids for another 33 stimulus projects worth more than $40 million.

Nixon said he intends to outline more plans for how Missouri will use its federal stimulus money. He estimated new transportation spending alone could create 14,000 jobs and produce an economic impact of $2.4 billion

The new projects signal “Missouri is on the way back, that we’re going to create jobs for Missourians right here, that we’re going to build our way out of this recession and move this state and this country forward,’’ Nixon said.

The federal stimulus package includes $48 billion for transportation projects, with Missouri’s share estimated at $788 million. In all, Missouri could get more than $4.3 billion from the stimulus package, according to a review prepared by the Federal Funds Information for States, which is a service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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