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With the Rocheport bridge in the background, state officials spoke Wednesday at the Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro about the success of securing funding for the upcoming replacement of the Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River near Rocheport.

Funding for the project, which was announced in July, comes in the form of an $81.2 million grant awarded to Missouri through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.

The grant triggered $301 million in bonds, which were authorized by state lawmakers in the spring and will allow MoDOT to fix or replace 215 other bridges. MoDOT secured another $20.7 million in a federal grant in August through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Competitive Highway Bridge Program.

Without the grants, the bridge would have had to undergo repairs while still in use, which would result in traffic backups and another necessary repair in 10 years.

“Just a few short months ago, we were facing a far less promising option (than replacement), but the only one we had: rehabilitation of the bridge,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said. “That work would have taken up to nine months and had a devastating impact — not only on the surrounding communities, but the entire state and region.”

The new bridge will be built just south of the existing one and will be initially configured to four lanes, with the possibility of being expanded to six if the state is able to secure funding for an I-70 expansion project. The existing bridge has four lanes and will remain open until the new one is completed.

Sen. Roy Blunt said a large reason to secure funding to replace the bridge and other bridges across Missouri is due to the state’s location, which also serves as a “competitive advantage” when it comes to advocating for funding on Capitol Hill.

“Every member of the legislature that’s here is probably tired of me saying to them, ‘If you took a river map of America and a highway map of America and a railroad map of America, and on any of those three maps you just pointed to where those maps logically come together, you’d be pointing where we live,’” Blunt said.

Officials applauded Blunt for the efforts he made in securing funding for the bridge, as well as state lawmakers recognizing the importance of replacing it.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when we all work together, and I can think of no other symbol of that cooperation than a bridge, and a bridge spanning the mighty Missouri River,” Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said.

Gov. Mike Parson said he’s happy the bridge’s condition was considered a bipartisan issue and lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum endorsed its replacement.

“This is not about politics,” Parson said. “This is about doing the right thing for the future of our state.”

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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