February 23, 2012

Senator Blunt Behind Bipartisan Amendment to Aid Off-System Bridges

With higher steel prices making it nearly impossible to stretch federal aid dollars for local bridge projects, U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (MO) and Bob Casey (PA) on February 13th introduced an amendment to S. 1813, the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," to establish a dedicated revenue stream through the Off-System Bridge Program for bridges that are not on federal-aid or the National Highway System.

That is great news for Scotland County, which has undergone significant turnover in its bridge system. Nearly half of the county's 161 structures have been built in the past decade, helping it earn an above average mark on the 2011 MoDOT bridge inspection report.

While it ranks among the best in northeast Missouri, Scotland County still had 17 bridges rated as structurally deficient, representing 11% of the total. In years past, the county has been able to lean on the federal off-system bridge program to fund some of its bridge replacements.

But rising steel costs are stretching this federal funding thin, with concerns about how long the funding will be available from Washington D.C.

Bridge #140, located near the Mary Morgan Property off of Route C, was funded in part by federal bridge replacement off systems (BRO) funds. The bridge was dedicated last winter.

Without increase funding, it may be the last BRO bridge in Scotland County for a few years.

County officials point to uncertainty in the federal fund sources as well as growing costs, meaning the BRO monies more than likely will have to be stockpiled for two or three years to be able to fund a single bridge replacement.

Bridge #140 came with a price tag around $380,000, which is roughly four years worth of BRO funds under the current system. Those federal dollars can only pay for 80% of the project. The county receives "soft-match" money for every non-federally funded bridge it replaces on its own, which can be used to fund the remaining 20% of off-system projects.

In a state like Missouri where bridges are extremely prevalent, the Off-System Bridge Program is an important tool for counties and county commissioners to address their off-system bridge needs. Approximately one in every six Missouri bridges is classified as deficient. The Blunt/Casey amendment would ensure that counties are not left bearing the full responsibility of the cost.

"Infrastructure is an integral part of our economy, and Missouri's leaders and business owners need the tools and resources to encourage economic development throughout our rural communities," said Blunt. "We must work together in Washington to make smart investments to develop a long-term federal plan for our infrastructure systems nationwide in order to provide communities and job creators greater certainty to prepare for the future."

Scotland County could use the funds to escape from the past. There are currently 16 bridges in the county's road system that are more than 50 years old.

"Far too many bridges in Pennsylvania and across the country are structurally deficient," said fellow amendment sponsor, Casey. "We need to work together to ensure the safety of our constituents and to strengthen our nation's infrastructure by ensuring that counties and local municipalities can make crucial repairs to bridges that will keep them safe and open to passengers and industry."

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