Discovery bridge 750x500

The Discovery Bridge carries Missouri Route 370 across the Missouri River and is maintained by MODOT.

In the wake of the bridge collapse in Florida, it’s a good time to take a look at Missouri’s infrastructure, which received a C- grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2013. This is slightly higher than the national average of D+, but like ASCE Region 7 Director Marsia Geldert-Murphey says, “If my kid was bringing home a C- or D+, I wouldn’t be thrilled either way.” These five facts about Missouri bridges help explain why the Show-Me State isn’t acing the test when it comes to infrastructure.

1. Missouri has the 7th largest system of roads and bridges in the U.S. but ranks 46th in funding

According to a report by Missouri Transportation System Task Force, Missouri faces $825 million of “unfunded transportation priorities.” The state's nation-low gas tax of 17 cents per gallon, which hasn’t been raised since 1996, is a major contributor to this. Missouri gains about $51,000 of revenue per mile of road from this tax, which is well below the national average of $216,000 per mile, Geldert-Murphey says.

Things could get much worse for Missouri if a proposal to change federal infrastructure funding is passed. The plan would decrease the federal contribution toward infrastructure from 80 percent to 20 percent, Geldert-Murphey says. There are proposals in Jefferson City to raise the gas tax by 10 cents to get Missouri enough funding under the current system, so if a greater bonus was placed on the states to fund infrastructure, Missouri would be hurt. “Tough, bold budgeting decisions would have to be made,” Geldert-Murphey says.

2. 60 percent of Missouri’s bridges are beyond their original intended life

The average age of a bridge in Missouri is 46 years, and the intended lifespan for most them is 50 years. This standard lifespan originated in the 1950s and early '60s, when people thought bridges should be replaced every 50 years, says Dennis Heckman, state bridge engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. However, these bridges are able last beyond this time frame —they take more money and effort to maintain than newer bridges, which lowers the quality of bridges across the board.

3. 883 of nearly 10,400 bridges maintained by the MODOT have been rated “poor”

Missouri rates their bridges on a scale of 1 to 9, which is the scale used by all states. Bridges rated 4 considered to be “poor.” This means the bridge meets minimum requirements to not be at risk for failure, but has "significant condition issues requiring replacement or major rehab," according to MODOT's website. Bridges rated lower are either susceptible to failure and closed or they already collapsed.

Because of the low funding, only about 100 bridges can be worked on at a time, Heckman says. Some factors that go into prioritizing which bridges to fix include the length of detour created, if the bridge is part of a school bus route, or if the bridge is commonly used by fire trucks or ambulances.

4. Every year about 100 bridges descend into the “poor” category

MODOT is able to repair or replace about 90 of these bridges every year, but the battle is becoming tougher. “As our costs go up, and the bridges get older and older, our revenue stays pretty much flat,” Heckman says. This makes it harder and harder to keep up with bridge maintenance every year, and as time passes, the number of “poor” bridges continues to grow.

5. More than 13 percent of Missouri’s bridges are “structurally deficient”

ASCE's 2013 report found that 3,195 of the 24,468 bridge in Missouri are structurally deficient, which means they no longer operate under the original design criteria, Geldert-Murphey says.

On top of the nearly 10,400 bridges maintained by MODOT, counties and localities in Missouri maintain roughly 14,000 bridges. These bridges are deficient at a higher rate than the bridges maintained by MODOT. One explanation for this is that the fight for funding at the local and county level is even more competitive than at the state level, Geldert-Murphey says.

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