While the governor and legislators of Minnesota remain conflicted over how to finance the state’s backlog of transportation repairs, Missouri is moving ahead with a plan to fix or replace more than 800 state bridges within five years.
Missouri plans to have a team of contractors finance the $400 million to $600 million in repairs and maintaining the bridges for another 25 years, over which time it will use a portion of its federal budget to pay back the companies. The contractors could recoup as much as twice their construction costs as the state repays the companies.
Missouri has accepted bids from two teams of construction firms, which will pay to repair or replace nearly 80% of bridges in the state that are in poor condition.
The plan, which was in the works before the Minnesota tragedy, also has a short-term political benefit. Lawmakers don’t have to convince the public of the need for higher gasoline taxes or new tolls—proposals that have stopped transportation funding packages in other states, including Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
"With this innovative new approach to transportation, we will do in five years what would have taken us 20 years before," said Missouri state Rep. Neal St. Onge. "We are getting maximum value for taxpayers and keeping the public safe as well."
But the plan has its limitations. Besides the large payout, the program is targeting only smaller, rural bridges—from 100 ft to 300 ft long. None of Missouri's 11 steel-deck truss bridges, which resemble the Minneapolis span that collapsed, is scheduled to be repaired under the plan.
In addition, few companies could commit to completing such a statewide project. Two of the four original teams to bid on Missouri's plan dropped out because they could not meet the program's requirements.
Despite those issues, there was little opposition to the plan in a late summer special legislative session, where lawmakers passed a bill to change Missouri’s bonding requirements to accommodate the bridge projects.