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By Echo Menges
US Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO, District 6), the top Missouri Department of Transportation official, most of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, MoDOT District, Area and Project Engineers, and representatives of the companies contracted to complete millions of dollars worth of Missouri bridge replacement work made the trek to Lewis County last week to tout the existence and progress of the federal and state-funded FARM Bridge Program. F-A-R-M stands for fixing access to rural Missouri, according to information released by MoDOT.
The FARM Bridge Program was designed to utilize federal and state money to improve and replace bridges in rural areas along the northern tier of the state. In total 31 bridges in 17 counties are benefitting from the program with 16 bridges located in the Northeast region and 15 in the Northwest.
The FARM Bridge Project cost is estimated to be roughly $26 million with $20.8 million coming from federal funding and $5.2 million from state funding.
Bridge replacements are slated for Putnam, Schuyler, and Scotland counties along the far north line of northeast counties, Sullivan, Adair, and Lewis on the second shelf, Linn, Macon, and Shelby counties on the third shelf, Chariton a step south, along with Warren County even further south.
In the Northwest region, Atchison, Worth, Harrison, Gentry, Grundy, and Livingston counties will benefit from the FARM Bridge Program.
The group gathered for a press event held on State Route E at the Derrahs Branch Bridge in Lewis County on Tuesday morning, May 5, 2022. The bridge served as a backdrop example of an ailing rural bridge in desperate need of replacement. The gathering included brief remarks from the Director of MoDOT and Rep. Graves.
“The work that he does in Washington really brings back progress here in Missouri, and no better example than right here – this FARM Bridge Program – that was put in place 100 percent because of the grant money that the Congressman was able to bring forward,” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna told the crowd. “As you can see, when you’re down to a single lane on a bridge – when you’ve got two lanes of traffic – it’s a real impediment to the local community, and it’s a safety issue. And so, improving the safety, improving the conditions for local communities is really what this is all about. It wouldn’t have been possible without Congressman Graves. And, it wouldn’t be possible, the work that MoDOT does, would not be possible without our Commission – the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission. We have several members here.”
“The Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission enables everything that the Department of Transportation does, and it’s their leadership in working with Congressman Graves to enable this type of work. On behalf of MoDOT, on behalf of everybody that that’s out here, our team that’s working here at the local level, I just want to thank Congressman Graves for the work that you’re doing, and it’s really bringing benefits home,” McKenna said during his introduction of Rep. Graves.
“We were just talking and saying that before his work on the Fast Act, which was the previous surface transportation Missouri was getting a little bit worse in bridge condition every single year, and in the last four or five years we’ve gotten a little bit better every year. And, it’s solely because of that work in Washington and bringing the resources back to Missouri. And with the work that we’re doing now we’re gonna make even more progress. It matters to every community. Congressman Graves, thank you so much,” said McKenna.
Remarks from US Rep. Graves
“Patrick mentioned that the grant comes from a program we created in 2018. It’s called the Competitive Bridge Program and that’s what funded the FARM Bridge Program here in the state. It’s a great state-federal partnership program. It really is. And it’s competitive, or, as far as states that qualify, it’s based on population density. Actually, 25 states qualified for the Competitive Bridge Program, and Missouri being one of those. It’s actually based on population density. So, it’s really good we set that up in 2018. (The) President signed it into law and that’s the money that we’re seeing now, replacing these bridges through the FARM Bridge Program It’s a great partnership. It really is. And, I appreciate all that the Commission does and MoDOT does. In North Missouri, I always say we have great soils for raising crops. We’ve got lousy soils for roads. (They) just move too much. It’s getting these bridges in place is a great start to fixing some of our rural roads,” US Rep. Sam Graves told the crowd.
McKenna spoke one more time to recognize some of his MoDOT staff in the region, and the contractors responsible for replacing all 31 Northern Missouri FARM Bridge Program bridges – Lehman Construction Company of California, MO, and Wilson & Company Engineers & Architects of Kansas City, MO.
The group traveled a few miles west to see another Lewis County bridge, the Sugar Creek Bridge also on State Route E, which is currently under re-construction. The brief stop allowed Rep. Graves to talk with the Project Manager and other MoDOT officials before departing.
Local Candidate for District 6 Pushes Back on Graves Taking Credit
In contrast to the recent event, a local contender for the District 6 US Congressional seat Charles West (D) argues that Rep. Graves is taking credit for a program he had nothing to do with.
“Sam Graves only comes back to the District when there’s a press opportunity, and this happened to be one of those opportunities,” Charles West of rural Canton, Democratic candidate for District 6, told The Edina Sentinel/ NEMOnews Media Group. “Sam didn’t do any of the things that he’s trying to take full credit for. The FARM Bridge Program is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (in) 2018. Sam repeatedly states that (he) secured funding for all of these projects when in reality he wasn’t a sponsor or a co-sponsor. There were 40 sponsors and co-sponsors, and Sam wasn’t one of them. He did vote yes, but so did 144 other Republicans and 111 Democrats. Ninety Republicans and 77 Democrats voted no.”
West warns of the dangers of MoDOT officials planning and hosting events to promote the US legislator during an election year.
“I always tell people that I really think it’s important that everyone knows exactly what’s going on and the truth is told – especially since it’s an election year,” said West. “The fact is that Sam consistently panders and gaslights on every (social media) post he makes – especially on this particular subject where he says ‘I secured’ on every post and in person, and has the MODOT officials spouting the same lies. He doesn’t think that people will do the research. I want everyone to know that I do the research and will speak the truth.”
FARM Bridge Program Interview with Rep. Sam Graves
Rep. Graves took some time to do a short interview with The Edina Sentinel/NEMOnews Media Group during the press event last Tuesday. Those questions and Rep. Graves’s answers are included below.
Q: Can you talk about how awesome it is to be here doing this, and this program coming to fruition?
A: So this is part of the 31 bridges that we were able to get through. It’s actually a federal and state partnership. So the state came up with what they call the FARM Bridge Program, and then what we did was funded it through a program that was created in 2018. That’s the Competitive Bridge Program and that’s what’s funding this. We got 20.8 million dollars from the federal government to replace these bridges – 31 of them – throughout Northern Missouri.
Q: Can you just talk a little bit about the work that you and your staff put into helping (to) make this happen”
A: So what we did when we created this is we created this program, and 25 states have qualified for the program, and it’s based on population density. Obviously, in Northern Missouri, we don’t have a whole lot of people that live up there, and it makes it hard to be able to convince folks that we need good roads. We need good bridges as well. That’s one of the reasons we came up with the program and then MoDOT got the FARM Bridge Program to administer, and that’s actually kind of a build-design program. It makes it a little bit cheaper to be able to put bridges like this together and makes our money go a little bit farther with inflation. That’s a good thing – now that it’s costing people to do it.
Q: Do you have anything coming down the pike, programs like this, you want to talk about that are important for rural Missouri?
A: We obviously have an infrastructure program that was passed by clear center. Now it’s the law of the land so what we’re going to be doing is oversight. We want to make sure that those dollars are spent wisely around the country. The unfortunate part of that is only about half of it is traditional infrastructure roads and bridges, which is unfortunate. Regardless, now we have to make sure that the money is spent correctly and we don’t see a lot of waste and abuse.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you think is important for your constituents in North Missouri to know?
A: Well, the biggest thing is infrastructure itself. That’s something that the government is supposed to do and it’s supposed to do well, and traditional infrastructure is what it’s about. This program for instance, which we created in 2018, we’re just now seeing the money come around so it takes a little while for that money to get out there. Even though these programs are passed, and sometimes we can get a little impatient, but eventually it makes (it).
Q: Is there anything you want to add?
A: This is a good program. This is good. This is a good start. We’ve still got to fix a lot of our lettered routes, which are state roads themselves but they don’t have any federal component but that’s just as important to our smaller communities as anything else. And some of them are in pretty bad shape.”