MoDOT officials plan to award a single contract this summer for a $400 million to $600 million project aimed at replacing more than 800 of the 10,200 bridges on Missouri's state roads.
Jeff Briggs, spokesman for MoDOT, said the initial work for the Safe and Sound Initiative is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2012, after which the contractor will be responsible for maintaining the bridges for 25 years. After the 25 years, the state would resume bridge maintenance duties.
"They're worn out," Briggs said. "They're obsolete. They're too narrow. They need attention or else we'd have to close them."
According to Briggs, the department expects that a coalition of contractors would organize into a team to submit a single bid.
Briggs blamed the poor condition of the state's bridges on age, increased traffic and heavier traffic.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer said most bridges on state-owned roads were built around 1930, and that MoDOT's previous plan of issuing individual contracts to repair each bridge simply wasn't getting ahead of the issue.
"The problem is we're not gaining," said the central Missouri Republican. "When you build a lot of things at the same time, they have a tendency to ware out at the same time. We have a number of bridges that are one grade close to being closed."
Briggs said the state has yet to close a bridge, but has placed weight limits on a number of spans.
But some legislators said they are wary about MoDOT's comprehensive plan.
Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, who also serves on the Transportation Committee, said he's concerned that the state's grandiose plan would shorten the list of contractors who could bid on the project.
Briggs said three teams of contractors are in the running. They are Missouri Bridge Partners, Team United and Partnership Missouri.
Barnitz said he's worried that the three teams, which are currently reviewing the condition of Missouri's bridges and will submit proposals this spring, could share information or strategies, and possible increase the cost of the project.
Yet another concern, Barnitz said, was that MoDOT could award the bid to a team whose contractors have a history of sub-par work.
"I'm still reserving judgment with how this will work," Barnitz said.
Briggs said MoDOT would award the contract to the "best value," which includes the amount a team bids for the project and the state's experience with the contractors.
He also said grouping the repairs into one large proposal provided the state with the quickest way to remedy the problem.
And the plan has somewhat of a safety clause built in, since the contractor would be responsible for maintaining the bridges for at least 25 years.
"It's really a guarantee that's carried by the contractor," Stouffer said.
Sen. Brad Lager, whose northwestern Missouri district is littered with small, state-owned bridges, said he's concerned the proposal prevent local contractors from construction contracts with the state to repair or replace the bridges. The 16 counties the Republican senator represents are home to 149 bridges that need repairs, according to the MoDOT.
"(Local residents) want to make sure that their local communities and their local contractors are all able to be apart of that process," Lager said. "They just don't want some firm from out of town to come in and do it all."
Funds from the federal fuel tax would pay for almost the entire project, Briggs said. State fuel tax dollars, motor vehicle taxes and money generated from vehicle licenses and registrations would fund the remaining costs.
According to a 2001 Bureau of Transportation report, a total 23,604 bridges spanned Missouri's rivers, streams and valleys. Of those, 6,083 were labeled "structurally deficient" and 2,747 were labeled "functionally obsolete."
Those statistics include county-owned bridges, which Dick Burke, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said are also in poor condition. Like the state, individual counties have failed to gain on their bridge woes, Burke said, noting that some 70,000 miles of county roads line Missouri.
But unlike the state, counties sometimes are forced to close entire bridges because of their shoddy condition.
"It's difficult to see progress being made, although I think counties have been doing a lot of good things," Burke said. "It's just a monumental task."