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Friday, June 17, 2011

MISSOURI BUDGET WOES: New Bridges Funded by Tolls, Higher Sales Tax ?

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Commissioner Says Toll Bridge May Be Best Funding Source

By Evin Fritschle, Missourian Staff Writer
June 15, 2011
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One county official this week said he thinks adding a toll to the Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River at Washington is the best way to fund it.
John Griesheimer, presiding Franklin County commissioner and a Washington resident, told a Sullivan radio station Monday morning that the local area will likely need to come up with some way to fund a new bridge in addition to the roughly $750,000 from Washington and Franklin County for preliminary design engineering.
“That’s sort of the sad part with this,” Griesheimer said. “MoDOT should pay for all the engineering fees, but unfortunately MoDOT doesn’t have the money.”
In order to move the project forward, the Washington City Council agreed last year to kick in half a million dollars for design costs.
The county commission voted in favor of spending 5 percent of its road and bridge sales tax in 2012 regularly allocated for grants for cities and road districts to the bridge design.
The expectation, Griesheimer said, is that the state will put forward the remainder of the design costs.
“This will at least get the design phase going and get the plans drawn up,” Griesheimer said.
A new bridge over the Missouri River will cost $57 million, according to the most recent MoDOT estimates.
Griesheimer said there was no way the county and local entities could afford to bankroll the project themselves.
“The cost of the bridge would drain everything Franklin County and Washington have to do it all,” he said. “What is going to have to happen is we’re going to have to figure out a funding scheme which will include either some sort of tax for the bridge, or toll it.”
Griesheimer said the toll route would be nothing new, noting a toll added to pay for a bridge at the Lake of the Ozarks.
“Tolling would probably be the best way to fund the bridge. That way we could use those funds as the mechanism for funding our fair share,” he said. “I think without some kind of revenue source locally, it isn’t going to get funded for some years.”
State, Regional Priority
Replacing the bridge is the only Franklin County project on the East-West Gateway Council of Government’s project list through 2020, Griesheimer noted, but no funding has been allocated.
The roughly one-half-mile-long Washington bridge was tolled for about 15 years following its initial construction to repay a $428,000 loan used to build the bridge.
The bridge cost $803,000 to build in the mid-1930s, bridge committee chairman Bob Zick told the county transportation committee in May.
From the time it opened, travelers paid a toll to cross the bridge, even on foot. The toll ended in October 1951, according to records from the Washington Historical Society.
Zick said getting local entities, including the county, to provide funding could help avoid the need to toll the bridge.
The bridge received federal loans and grants when it was originally built, a prospect Griesheimer said isn’t likely now.
“Those days are over,” he said. “(The lack of federal earmark projects) may be good in some cases, but in some ways it’s bad when you need a project funded.”
About 10,000 cars travel the Washington bridge each day, Griesheimer said, noting that is more than on the Christopher Bond bridge in Hermann.
Zick said replacing the bridge was a better use of taxpayer money.
Griesheimer said the state has said it won’t continue to rehabilitate the bridge like it did in 2009.
That project cost $5.2 million and added eight-10 years to the bridge’s life, Zick said.
“We’re slowly but surely running out of time,” Griesheimer said.

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