Hermann City Hall has succeeded in winning priority recognition for a new Market Street bridge over Frene Creek.
While the Gasconade County Commission agreed to upgrade the project — one of several existing projects on the county’s road-and-bridge wishlist — to the priority list, it placed a new Frene Creek span at the bottom. That placement and the need for significant engineering studies associated with a new span makes it unlikely that anything will happen to build a new bridge within the next few years.
City government officials outlined their argument for a new bridge during Thursday morning’s County Commission session that included the drafting of a new list of projects to be considered for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s next 5-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
Complicating the city’s effort is that the request to get the bridge out of the flood plain means Market Street would have to be raised out of the flood plain, as well. That would require a substantial raising of the road, which, in turn, would affect businesses located along that section of Market Street — at least a half-dozen businesses.
Raising Market Street means those businesses no longer would be accessible to motorists from the highway.
Raising the Market Street also would increase the overall cost of the project by a substantial amount. Initial cost estimates just for a new bridge — one that simply replaces the existing span as it now sets — is $1.2 million.
Hermann Tourism & Economic Development Director Eli McDonald, City Administrator Mark Wallace and Mayor Robert Koerber argued that a new bridge out of the flood plain is needed to prevent heavy truck traffic from using residential streets during floods, such as this spring.
The bridge built in the 1930s also poses a danger to motorists and pedestrians, city officials argued. It is too narrow, compared to modern-day standards, they argued.
“It’s dangerous in terms of (being) seriously inadequate for what Hermann needs now,” said the mayor.
Added McDonald: “It does go under water quite often. Our city streets aren’t engineered to withstand high traffic,” he said.
Wallace told the County Commission that the city had difficulty keeping tractor-trailer rigs off city streets — the city went to the extent of placing an officer at the end of the Christopher S. Bond Bridge to divert truck traffic.
The mayor said the city continues to deal with damage caused back in the spring. “We’re tearing our streets up all the time,” he said. “We’re still fixing some leaks that are springing up from last May.
“All I can say is this is a severe issue for Hermann,” Koerber said.
MoDOT Area Engineer Preston Kramer, who was joined by Bonnie Prigge, executive director of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC), for the session, noted that solving this problem will involve more than building a new bridge.
“Regardless, the road is going to have to be raised,” he said. “Just keep in mind when we do this project, some of the entrances (to adjacent businesses) will have to go away.”
Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, and a former mayor of the town, said city officials can do more to keep heavy traffic off city streets. “The streets in Hermann can be closed,” he said. “And it takes more than a sheet of plywood saying ‘Road Closed.’ In the interim, I think the city can do more.
“If you put a 5-foot barrier out there, they’re not going to go through that,” he added.
Southern District Associate Commissioner Jerry Lairmore, R-Owensville, said he doesn’t oppose the city’s effort on obtaining a new bridge. But, he added, “I think a lot of work needs to be done before putting it on the (priority) list.”
The County Commission agreed to make the Frene Creek bridge the fourth priority project. Ahead of it are:
• 1. Improvements to Highway 19 as it runs alongside the Gasconade County R-2 School District campuses.
• 2. Safety improvements at the intersections of Highway 100 West and J about six miles southwest of Hermann.
• 3. The replacement of the Highway J bridge over First Creek, near the 100-J intersection. That bridge, built during the Great Depression, is considered by transportation planners as the worst unfunded bridge in the Meramec Region. It has not been pushed higher on the priority list simply because of the low number of vehicles that travel daily across it.
Gasconade County’s list, which contains a total of 20 projects including the four priority items, will be considered by MRPC’s Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) along with the other seven counties’ lists on Dec. 14.
The TAC will craft a final list containing projects from throughout the entire region. That list will be acted on by the MRPC Board of Directors and forwarded to MoDOT for programming the projects into the 5-year Transportation Improvement Plan.