Missouri ranks as one of the worst for bad bridges with more than 3,000 in need of big repairs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri is home to some of the country’s worst bridges, a new report says.

Based on new data compiled by the Federal Highway Administration in its annual deficient bridges report, the Show-Me-State ranked fourth on the list for the number of bad bridges, with 3,086 considered structurally deficient.

On the Buck O’Neil Bridge in and out of downtown Kansas City alone, more than 40,000 trucks and cars cross daily.

“The bridge does not do well with ice and snow especially with rain and flooding,” commuter Jenna Felsen said.

Felsen works at a boutique in the Villages at Briarcliff and uses the Buck O’Neil Bridge every day to get there from her Midtown home. She’s noticed the bridge is missing chunks of safety railing and said the narrow passage is incredibly dangerous for pedestrians.

“It scares me for my safety but also just ease of use, and I think officials need to know it affects a lot of people, and I think a lot of people would appreciate it being worked on,” Felsen said.

Although the bridge and the debate over how fix and pay for its repairs has gotten a lot of attention recently, it’s not the worst bridge in the region. Missouri has more than 3,000 bad bridges that need some kind of significant repair, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

“This is what people need to survive. We don’t live in an area where you can avoid having to drive, and most of the time, long distances,” said Jay Hodges with the Laborers Employers Cooperative and Education Trust for Western Missouri and Kansas.

Hodges works with area labor unions on major infrastructure projects. He even detours his own commute from the Northland to avoid some of the region’s more structurally deficient bridges.

But he also knows Missouri is cash-strapped, and finding extra money to fix failing bridges isn’t easy.

“It isn’t like governments who are in charge of these things are sitting on piles of cash they’re just not willing to share with people," Hodges said. "They’re really making some struggling choices on what they do want to fund, and it’s going to be kind of a delicate balancing act moving forward."

Lawmakers have floated everything from increasing the state’s gas tax to adding more tolled roads to bring in more money to repair bad roads and bridges.

Ultimately, tough decisions will have to be made to find the funding because the longer the repairs are neglected, the more costly it will become both in dollars and to the safety of everyone who drives through the state.

“Infrastructure, you can’t neglect it," Hodges said. "You can’t kick the can down the road forever. You have to actually step in and say, 'We’re going to fix this. We’re going to do it. We’re going to make it good, make it better.'”

MoDOT says plans are already in the works to make fixes to four of the busiest bad bridges in Kansas City within the next few years. There’s also a statewide “Transportation Future Summit” planned later this month in Jefferson City.