MoDOT to close one lane of I-70 bridge near Rocheport for emergency repairs

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JEFFERSON CITY – One eastbound lane of I-70 bridge near Rocheport will be shut down for emergency repairs from Saturday night through the middle of next week, MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna announced Wednesday.

He said engineers need to repair an expansion joint on the bridge.

“We anticipate that the joint is going to fracture in the coming weeks, so this is preventative maintenance to ensure the structure is safe,” he said.

MoDOT officials had to make a similar repair to a different section of the bridge in August 2017.

McKenna said MoDOT chose to start repair work this weekend because fewer people would be traveling over the bridge.

“One of the reasons why we scheduled it starting at 7 p.m. on Saturday is that is going to be the lightest traffic that we face,” he said. “A lot of the initial work that we do will be done during that time.”

The announcement came on the same day McKenna testified before the Missouri House budget committee about a bill that would increase funding for bridge repairs, including an entirely new bridge near Rocheport.

The bill, which originated in the Senate, depends on how much MoDOT can get from a federal government grant.

“This is a concurrent resolution that, should we receive sufficient funds through the grant to help us build the Rocheport bridge, that will trigger a bonding mechanism to fix another 215 bridges in the state,” McKenna said.

If Missouri receives the grant from the Department of Transportation, the bill will authorize the use of bonds to pay for construction and repair of bridges.

Several members of the House budget committee said they were concerned about the precedent the bill could set by dipping into the general revenue pool.

“It is going to give me a lot of heartburn using general revenue, but there doesn’t seem to be any other plan moving forward at this point to inject any other funding into the infrastructure problem that we are facing in the state of Missouri,” Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he doesn’t like the idea of having to use general revenue.

“When we do GR, we start fighting in this room over the priorities and how can we build long term projects when every year we have to appropriate an amount of money,” Schatz said. “You cannot build a road system on not knowing and predicting what the funding is going to be next year because you have to commit long term to the projects and the engineering.”

Schatz said he would prefer to fund maintenance and construction through a fuel tax, but voters rejected one in November.

Still, lawmakers are considering increasing the fuel tax as an amendment to the bill.

“Some amendments have been drafted to increase the fuel tax by 2 cents and then to phase it out once that binding proposal is paid off,” Kendrick said. “That would get us where we need to be. I will support measures like that. Hopefully, we can get that on.”

There is a cheaper option to repair the Rocheport bridge temporarily, but Kendrick said he believes the bridge should be replaced entirely.

“You can’t repair it and have major backups,” he said. “That costs the entire state of Missouri a tremendous amount of money. You divert traffic up to I-80 or other places where we might never regain that traffic load going across I-70 that is critical for mid-Missouri’s economy.”

McKenna said the issue is not just a mid-Missouri problem, but a national one, because of how heavily the bridge is used for commerce.

“This is not about funding a particular agency. This is about having the transportation network available and useful, safe and reliable for the citizens that use it and commerce that runs on it,” McKenna said. “The economy of Missouri can only grow as fast as the transportation network can deliver it.”

The bill now goes to a joint conference committee early next week before it heads back to the House budget committee for another vote.