The project to build a new Interstate 70 bridge near Rocheport received a big boost Monday when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced it was awarding an $81.2 million grant essential to the plan.

This spring the Missouri Department of Transportation applied for a $172 million federal INFRA grant to replace an existing 60-year-old bridge. The existing bridge was slated to undergo an eight- to nine-month rehabilitation next year to extend its life by 10 years.

Each day about 34,000 cars pass over the bridge. State officials and local leaders have said the rehabilitation project could cause traffic to back up for as long as eight hours in either direction.

Including the grant, the state has about $190 million of the $240 million estimated cost to replace the bridge. MoDOT’s application for the grant said the state could rely on a $73.1 million federal loan to help the state pay for the bridge. Department spokeswoman Sally Oxenhandler did not return a request for comment.

Under the state’s proposal, the state would pay $105.2 million. Columbia and Boone County have offered to provide $2 million each, while Cooper County and Boonville both pledged $100,000 toward the project.

In a news release, Gov. Mike Parson’s office said the grant will allow the state to replace the existing span.

"Transportation drives our economy, and replacing the bridge is a major step toward maintaining our highway system and ensuring we have the framework for access and expansion in the future,” Parson said in the release.

U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, both Republicans, and U.S. Reps. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, and Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, praised the grant in a joint news release. 

“The Rocheport Bridge is a vital component of our nation’s highway system, carrying millions of people and billions of dollars in freight every year,” Blunt said in the prepared statement. “Replacing the bridge will create a safer, more reliable transportation route for businesses, travelers and local residents.”

The bridge is in Hartzler's district, which includes Boone and Cooper counties. She said local, state and federal governments worked well together to secure the grant.

"This award is critical not only for the citizens of Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District and mid-Missouri, but for travelers and truckers across the nation who traverse our great state,” Hartzler said in a news release.

Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber of Commerce president, said the grant and the bonding package will lead to significant infrastructure investments in the state.

"This is a big win for Missouri,” Mehan said in a news release. “The transportation funding announced today reflects the urgent need to invest in our state’s infrastructure to ensure our roads and bridges remain safe and open for commerce.”

At a meeting last week on the rehabilitation plan, MoDOT officials stated the bridge is in worse shape than thought, with a recent inspection labeling it in "poor" condition. Two additional meetings scheduled to discuss rehabilitation were canceled Monday after the grant was announced.

Lawmakers in May approved spending $301 million financed by state bonds to repair 215 bridges across the state. The plan was contingent on getting the grant.

pjoens@columbiatribune.com

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