As the Show-Me State continues to struggle to upgrade its roads and highways in an era of tight budgets and sequestered federal spending, U.S. senators Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) have introduced a bipartisan proposal to increase funding for so-called "off system" bridges.
These bridges cross creeks and rivers on mostly gravel roads in Nodaway and other rural counties and form a key part of the farm-to-market transportation infrastructure for Missouri and other primarily agricultural states.
Nodaway Road and Bridge Supervisor Larry Dougan said there are currently 384 such bridges scattered across the county's 15 townships, about a half-dozen of which are replaced each year.
The bridges are part of a transportation network serving rural residents of the state's fifth-largest county in terms of land area. Altogether the system comprises about 1,000 miles of gravel roads and 200 miles of dirt roads
Blunt's and Casey's legislation could potentially increase investment by counties and townships in off-system bridges nationwide by approximately 10 percent.
"Bridges and infrastructure are critical to our economy, and Missouri leaders and business owners continue to express a strong need for more certainty in infrastructure planning to expand and attract new businesses," Blunt said.
"I'm pleased to work with Senator Casey again to help provide rural communities and job creators nationwide with the tools and resources they need to plan for the future and encourage economic development."
According to a release issued by Blunt's office, there are more than 590,000 bridges in the United States, more than half of which are off-system. According to the senator, more than 25 percent of these off-system bridges are structurally deficient, functionally obsolete or both.
Under current federal transportation legislation, states are required to spend 15 percent of the dollars appropriated for the Highway Bridge Program (HPB) for off-system improvements. The proposal by Blunt and Casey would increase that requirement to 25 percent.
The measure doesn't add any additional money to the HPB, and it doesn't create a new program. However, if passed as part of the budget bill scheduled for debate in Congress this fall, it would shift more funds from federal highway system and Interstate bridges to local projects.
Of the six or so bridges Nodaway County replaces each year, one or two are usually constructed using Bridge Replacement Off System funds, commonly referred to as BRO.
As a general rule, the Nodaway County Commission is able to count its investment in materials and labor for other bridge projects as a "soft match" required to receive these federal BRO grants.
Only one such bridge is planned for completion in the county this year, a span over Honey Creek near the intersection of 130th Street and Noble Road in Independence Township near the Worth County line.
Funding for individual BRO bridges varies depending on length and other site factors, but South District Commissioner Robert Stiens said the average cost is around $225,000.