Rendering of I-70 bridge at Rocheport Missouri

A graphic shows the new I-70 six-lane bridges project to be built over the Missouri River at Rocheport, Mo.

(The Center Square) – In addition to connecting two counties separated by a river, Republican Gov. Mike Parson said a new $240 million I-70 bridge in mid-Missouri will join both halves of the nation.

“This bridge is important not only for the counties it connects, but for people from all over the United States who will be passing through our state,” Parson said Tuesday at a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on the Rocheport Bridge.

Parson was joined by local, state and federal officials at the ceremony. The current four-lane bridge, called by some the “lynchpin” of America, was built in 1960 over the Missouri River. It connects Boone and Cooper counties and five million people living in Missouri’s largest metropolitan areas, St. Louis – approximately 137 miles from Rocheport – and Kansas City – about 115 miles away.

“This was just not two counties or two cities but actually the east and west coasts of the United States,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, whose district includes the new bridge. “We know goods and services from all over this country traverse this bridge, so this was imperative.”

More than 12.5 million vehicles, including 3.6 million trucks, go over the bridge annually. Data from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) shows trucks carrying goods to the lower 48 states cross the Rocheport bridge every 48 hours.

The construction project will result in two three-lane bridges, one in each direction. It will allow for construction to take place with limited traffic delays or impact.

The first bridge will be built north of the existing bridge and is scheduled to be completed in 2023. Traffic will then be transitioned to the new bridge and the current bridge demolished. Construction is scheduled to be completed on the second bridge by Dec. 31, 2024.

Without a new bridge, MODOT predicted three- to eight-hour backups on I-70 for rehabilitation work on the bridge. The repairs would have extended the life of the structure about 10 years and probably required weight restrictions for trucks.

A key element of the project’s funding was an $81.2 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant, approved in July 2019. The grant triggered $301 million in state bonding, authorized by the Missouri legislature in 2019. The bonds also funded repair or replacement of an additional 215 bridges throughout the state.

Hartzler highlighted safety implications of the new bridge, citing estimates of reducing accidents by 40% and fatalities by 60%.

“What this means is when parents living on the west side of the Missouri River send their children to Mizzou, Columbia College or Stephens College, they have better assurance their child is going to arrive on campus safely,” Hartzler said. “It means the farmer in Boone County will be able to ship his goods to Kansas City easier. It will mean first responders will be able to get to families in need faster.”

Parson emphasized the importance of  the infrastructure investment to maintain or stimulate economic growth and create jobs.

“One thing Missouri has over any other state is its location in the center of the United States,” Parson said. “We have some of the best rail systems, road systems, airports and rivers. We need to upgrade and make sure we expand so our state will keep growing. The main focus all of us should have is to want the state and economy to do well. It’s self-serving, but if you want your kids and my kids, my grandkids and your grandkids to stay in this state, they will if they have the opportunity to get good, quality jobs.”

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.