Brian Kidwell walks along the old Manchester Bridge as Interstate 70 traffic whizzes past on the newly opened span.
He points to a six-inch hole in the concrete. There’s nothing but sky beneath the pothole.
“It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole,” says Kidwell, the Missouri Department of Transportation’s assistant district engineer for Kansas City. “You go out, you fix a patch, you get off of it. Next week, there’s another area, another area.”
Not anymore. On Sunday, MoDOT shifted traffic to the new, $64 million bridge. Now, workers will tear down the 60-year-old bridge, recycle the steel and haul away the concrete to use as fill for other projects.
The future of Kansas City’s other aging bridges is less certain.
“Our funding’s getting ready to drop to the lowest level it’s been in decades,” says Kidwell. “At the same time, our bridges are getting older and older. We anticipate we’re going to see a lot more trouble as folks drive up and down the interstates.”
Funding for Missouri roads and bridges will drop to $325 million in the fiscal year that starts next summer. That’s bad news as many metro-area bridges constructed in the 1950s and ’60s reach the end of their useful life.
“They all have a finite life,” says Kidwell. “Without the funds to work on them, keep them safe, keep them open, they’re all going to fade out of service at some point.”
Structurally, the old Manchester Bridge was fine. It was the deck – the concrete part cars drive over – that was crumbling, not the steel girders holding it up.
Compare that to the Missouri Highway 291 bridge over the Missouri River, which MoDOT had to close last month for emergency repairs to the gusset plates.
“If that type of bridge has a failure in a structural member, then the bridge could come down,” Kidwell says.
That means in the future if MoDOT has to close a bridge for safety reasons, there might not be the money to reopen it.