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Parson, Senators Split on Missouri Bridge Repairs

Nathan Lawrence

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is unwilling to budge much on a proposed list of bridges slated for repair under a $350 million bond plan he's pitching, the Republican told members of The Associated Press and Missouri Press Association on Thursday.

When asked by AP how open he is to adding or changing bridges on the project list, Parson said "not much."

His comments come after several state senators from the St. Louis and Kansas City areas criticized the proposal for including too few bridges from those regions.

"This project list doesn't come down from Mt. Sinai on stone tablets," St. Louis-area Republican Sen. Bob Onder said after Parson met privately with Senate Republicans this week about the bond proposal. "I'd like to be able to support it, but in its present form it needs work."

Parson during his State of the State address this year proposed fixing 250 bridges by borrowing $351 million, which he said would free up money for other roads and bridges across the state.

The list of 250 bridges comes from a broader statewide construction plan of priority projects already slated for repair that was chosen by regional and metropolitan planning commissions, Transportation Department Director Patrick McKenna said. From that list, Parson worked with the department to identify bridges that could be completed quickly and for less than $8 million.

McKenna said keeping the per-project price tag low means more bridges can be repaired with the money. But he said that also means it tends to go toward projects in rural areas, where bridges often are smaller and less expensive to fix.

Of the 250 bridges slated to be repaired or replaced in the next four fiscal years, 28 are from the Kansas City area and 14 are from the St. Louis area.

The possibility of getting more of the $350-million pie is putting some Democrats and Republicans on the same page.

Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman said residents from his hometown of Kansas City, as well as the St. Louis region, understand that revenue from those areas is used to help rural Missouri, "but that doesn't mean that we're also not going to fight for what we believe is our equitable portion of those resources."

Asked whether he's concerned about politics and earmarking influencing the project list, he said "that's the business we signed up for."

"I mean, that is literally what we do," Holsman said.

Senate President Pro Sen. Dave Schatz, who introduced legislation outlining Parson's proposal, said he's open to adjusting the criteria used to pick bridges for repair.

But the Sullivan Republican said if negotiations become about how much of the money each lawmaker can manage to put toward their district, "I'm not in favor of that."

Parson on Friday is visiting a southwestern Missouri bridge slated for repair as part of his push for the bonding project, and a hearing on Schatz' legislation is scheduled for Tuesday.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.