Bothered Mo. Bridges Pose Safety Hazard

Related Story

BOONE COUNTY - You use them almost every day and may not think twice before driving over or under Missouri bridges.

"People who drive under this bridge every day may start to notice that it is starting to deteriorate on the underneath side," said Former Safety Council Member Joe Alder.
Alder is talking about the I-70 Overpass near Business Loop 70, a bridge that almost 60 thousand cars drive across daily. 

KOMU 8 News presented photos of gaping holes and loose concrete falling from the underside of the bridge to University of Missouri Professor and Civil Engineer Charles Nemmers.
"What I saw is certainly not comfortable because you saw reinforcing steel exposed in the bottom of a concrete girder," said Nemmers.

Half a yard stick fit into a hole where the steel is exposed and the bridge is deteriorating. Nemmers took a closer look at this area and said the concrete on this type of bridge is called a voided slab and meant more for appearance than strength.

"The concrete around that steel keeps it so it looks nice and smooth," said Nemmers. "It is significant, but it's not really important for the strength of the bridge."

MoDOT also says there really is nothing to worry about because of the structure.

"Just because you had a large hole up in there doesn't mean that's a bad thing," said MoDOT District Bridge Engineer Alan Trampe. "In this particular instance, that's the way it was designed and that's the way it was built."

But Nemmers still thinks the bridge needs attention.

"When I saw that it was gone and had collapsed out and you could stick it a little bit and it would come loose, thats not really good and needs to be fixed, but it's nowhere near catastrophic," said Nemmers.

One driver still feels uneasy about the loose concrete over the roadway.

"I'm hoping MoDOT inspects it on a periodic basis; a frequent basis just to make sure that no large chunks of concrete would fall off of the underside of the bridge or fall on to a vehicle, a bicyclist or a pedestrian and potentially kill or injure them," said Alder.

"The more safety problem is the concrete falling down on something underneath, but it's not something in any ways that is going to collapse," said Nemmers. "There is not even a hint of that, so it's safe but I would think that they need to fix it and put it into the program."

MoDOT last inspected the I-70 overpass near Business Loop in 2011. Trampe said crews have also been around to knock off more loose concrete before winter arrives. 

"This one here is just getting to the point where it has served its purpose and you know, we've got a lot of traffic on it and we're starting to get some deterioration so we do have it in the program to get it replaced," said Trampe. "Now we just have to figure out what we are able to put back in here."

The complete replacement should take place in 2015 and cost MoDOT about $10 million dollars according to the STIP or Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

In the past, Missouri had a bad reputation for some of the worst bridges, but the state is getting better after completing Safe and Sound, a $685 million dollar bridge improvement program. 

"These are basically for smaller bridges all over the state, so that has really helped a whole lot," said Nemmers. "It's made a lot of its bridges better because MoDOT has responsibility for a lot more bridges than a lot of other states."

MoDOT replaced or repaired 802 smaller bridges, finishing more than a year before its self-imposed deadline. 

So why didn't the bridge carrying I-70 over Business Loop fit into the program?

"A lot of it was the scope of the work and the total replacement on an interstate would have been way outside the scope of what the Safe and Sound Program was really focusing on," said Trampe. "They really focused on the simpler ones that were easy to shutdown."

MoDOT sold GARVEE or Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles Bonds with 24 annual payments of about $50 million dollars. It also used one-third of the yearly federal bridge replacement fund, but now that money is spent and MoDOT has more to do. 

"We have made grounds on the overlay condition of our bridges, but we need to continue that emphasis on bridges to be able to maintain where we are at and what we have gained over the last four or five years," said Trampe. 

With less funding, can the state keep it up?

"Me personally, I think it is going to be tough to do that. It was a real aggressive program focusing on bridges," said Trampe. "Now, we've got limited funds and the funding is going down each year and we have to incorporate our pavement and other projects along as well and be able to prioritize our needs."

MoDOT says there's money for projects in its future construction program and it will complete the projects as planned.