Highway 291 bridge near Liberty, Independence gets partial closure after inspection concerns

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Part of a busy bridge connecting eastern Jackson County to the Northland is now partially closed.

A routine inspection uncovered serious safety concerns with the Highway 291 crossing over the Missouri River.

The bridge is 70 years old and sees 12,000 cars a day in each direction. But right now, one lane of the northbound side is shut down over safety concerns.

“We did a major project here in 2015, with similar problems we have now just in different locations, and back then these areas didn’t have rust problems or anything like that. So in the last four years, it’s gotten worse,” said Stephen Collyott, MoDOT district bridge engineer.

Pictures from MoDOT reveal some of the major rust found on several joints under the bridge.

“The rust will start making the steel expand and push out on them, and it causes failure at that joint,” Collyott said.

MoDOT is now carefully studying what to do about the damage and ultimately determining if more repairs or a whole new bridge is in order..

“We see a lot of damage done so it’s only going to get worse if we don’t make it better,” Larisa Belk said.

Belk and Amanda Hatfield both work at Liberty Autobody, which sits at the base of the bridge. They drive over it daily and the newly found flaws in its structure are definitely concerning.

“When you hit the potholes, you think, ‘Where is all the taxes going?’ But then something like this happens, and honestly I would rather pay a little bit more in taxes so I know I’m not going to fall into the Missouri River on my way to work,” Hatfield said.

For both their business and their commute, they just hope whatever work is needed won’t cause MoDOT to shift all traffic to the southbound side, which has happened before and is a possibility down the road, depending on the scope of the project the state undertakes.

“I don’t have a solution, don’t know what it is but letting a bridge get to the point that they don’t know how long it will be closed down is not it,” Hatfield said.

And of course the problems on the Highway 291 bridge just scratch the surface of all the work that’s needed.

Missouri is home to 900 bridges rated in poor condition an, and each year about 100 more bridges fall into the “poor” category, while the state fixes or replaces about 90. Finding funding to make all needed repairs remains a constant challenge.

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