Prep work for Maries County BRO bridge project nears completion

Bluebird Network seeks to build fiber optic line from Jefferson City to Rolla

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 1/20/21

VIENNA — Most of the preparation work already has been done to replace the old bridge on MCR 608 using the Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) program, which is a federal bridge program that …

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Prep work for Maries County BRO bridge project nears completion

Bluebird Network seeks to build fiber optic line from Jefferson City to Rolla

Posted

VIENNA — Most of the preparation work already has been done to replace the old bridge on MCR 608 using the Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) program, which is a federal bridge program that began in 1970.

MECO Engineering President, Scott Vogler, was at the Maries County Commission meeting last Thursday to discuss the current bridge project. The BRO program makes is possible for counties to replace aging bridges by providing federal money. Otherwise, small counties would be hard-pressed to find money to replace a bridge. 

Vogler said the next step is right-of-way acquisition. The project will use the existing right-of-way and an additional .28 acres is needed for the bridge project. The land is on both sides of the road. There is one owner they need to approach. Vogler provided all of the paperwork.

The bridge plans are mostly complete. It is a single-span bridge, 110 feet long and 26 feet and two inches wide. It will have a standard rail. The new bridge will be higher than the old one. Vogler said once they get the right-of-way secured, with the plans almost done, it will be ready for bidding this year. If there are “no snags” it could be done in three months. 

Vogler said the federal government “is throwing money out there” for infrastructure and there are promises of even more money coming. He anticipates there will be a lot of construction work and his company is expanding its capacity and hiring more people. He said staffing has been challenging this year because of Covid-19 as people were quarantined and not at work. 

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel said he thinks the economy is “picking up.”

Eastern District Commissioner Ed Fagre, whose road district the current BRO project is in, said he’d initially chosen the old WPA bridge over Fly Creek on MCR 213. But the rules were changed. Maries County didn’t have enough BRO money built up to replace the Fly Creek bridge and wanted to wait a year or two to let it build up more money. But, the new rule said use it or lose it so Fagre selected a smaller bridge. Six months later, the new rules was scrapped, but a lot of engineering work already had been done for the smaller bridge so the bridge over the Little Tavern Creek on MCR 608 will be replaced using BRO money. Fagre told Vogler and bridge over Fly Creek has a lot more traffic on it and is in bad shape

Vogler suggested asking MoDOT to re-rate the bridge. He said it doesn’t take much for a bridge to be declared deficient, and it gets put on a list. Vogler is well aware of what happened with the Fly Creek bridge as MECO did the whole programming on the project. He said they didn’t have enough funds to do that bridge at the time. 

Drewel said he thinks the BRO program puts “too much money in one spot.” He’d rather see $400,000 broken down into smaller amounts to use for multiple bridges and water crossings. Vogler said the BRO funds is federal money from the gasoline tax. Some of it is required to go to the counties. 

They hope the right-of-way acquisition goes well. Drewel had a BRO project that had to be moved to another site because the landowner would not cooperate with right-of-way acquisition. He said some people think a new bridge will increase traffic on their road and they don’t want that. Vogler said a new bridge will increase the value of property along the road. 

Vogler also mentioned another program that uses federal money to help pay for a bridge replacement. It’s the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, but the county would have to put a percentage of money in the project as well. This might be a problem if it meant the county had to pay $100,000 of the project’s price tag. There are hoops to jump through as well, Vogler said, but otherwise the grant program is “free money.”

Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman asked about the construction process. He asked if MECO takes care of the on-site inspection. Vogler said MECO won’t be at the site every day, but they will be there for major events such as driving the pilings and concrete pouring when MECO staff will be there. 

Also, Vogler said last time when Road Two had the BRO project, the county did all of the road work. Rules about this have changed  and now all of the work will be done by the contractor. With so much documentation required plus an audit, they have moved away from the county doing any of the work, which before they used as a match on the project.

Road bypass

Fagre said there is a lot of traffic on the county roads used for bypassing the Highway N bridge project over Rodgers Creek. From the west MCR 620 is used and from the east its MCR 618. He said anytime he’s been on those roads since Highway N was closed at the bridge construction site, he’s always met other vehicles. There is more traffic on the road than he expected. Road One is doing additional maintenance with rock and grading. 

At first they talked about replacing the bridge, but instead they are replacing the deck. Fagre said there is some talk in the state legislature in Jefferson City about possibly increasing the state’s gasoline tax by two cents for five consecutive years. 

Donation

Stratman said the county received a check for $240 from the Historical Society of Maries County (HSMC) for use of the Research Room in the basement of the courthouse. Stratman said the Research Room and the HSMC are an asset to the community.

internet band width

The commissioners had a phone conference with Carlos of Bluebird Network, Columbia, and included Matt, an engineer, and Shane Sweno, the county’s IT Coordinator. The Bluebird Network is interested in establishing Points of Presence (POP) and building out the broadband network in order to provide a robust internet connection for business, government, school and more partners. 

Carlos said in Vienna the company wants to work with the county to strengthen internet band width. They looked at the variables and made contact with MRPC and spoke of plans to extend the network to internet desert areas. They work with cities and counties to determine what and where the need is and who the company can work with to drive out the build. The company needs to understand where to put the dollars. Carlos said there are many parts to the build. Bluebird works with other companies, too. They ask the cities and counties to help them identify corporations that want to use the services and then project how many and how much it will cost. More people brings down the cost. They identify where to bring the services to. The company has been working with another partner wanting to bring robust internet to Argyle. 

Stratman asked if Bluebird plans to build a hard line of fiber optic and he said yes, they want to bring a hard line fiber optic internet circuit to the areas between Jefferson City and Rolla.

Fagre asked how long this will take. Carlos said they looked at the terrain and it is rugged. They also identify a number of organizations that want service. They’ve done the preliminary scoping and he anticipates four to six months, depending on how long it takes to get the end users identified. The company will have to obtain right-of-ways, get equipment and more. A normal build is 60 to 90 days, but this one is coming from a long way and there are a number of different factors. 

Stratman asked about the location the line will originate from. Carlos said it will be coming from the nearest hub in Jefferson City. They will build down Highway 63 all the way to Rolla, intermittently branching out. He thinks there will be a POP in Vienna, which can be built out from as well. 

Stratman said last year funding was released for companies to improve broadband in rural areas and he asked if Bluebird Network is talking to them about it. Carlos said these funds are not available now as it was all awarded. However, they are talking to Wisper about its plans as the company received money to improve internet in this area. He said they can partner with them and use those dollars for this build. He said they are not there yet but they are working toward that, which is a plan to use those dollars. 

Fagre asked if they are burying new fiber from Jefferson City to Rolla. Carlos said yes, they are not borrowing lines, “It’s us building out.” This is the same network they use for all of the phone companies. Bluebird understands and technology and the structure to build an internet highway that will be at the level that exists in St. Louis. 

Stratman said he keeps saying businesses and he thinks most would like to see an improved internet connection, but the biggest need is getting it to residents who really need it. Carlos said the goal is to get the build out into cities and companies and some residential. They are not there yet and have to get there first. They want to partner with corporations and other companies such as AT&T and Spectrum and the availability would filter out into neighborhoods. 

Matt said they’ve done this before. The band width would be high level, stable 1 Gig over an eight-county area. For a local government there will be a 10 Gig backbone. He said those speeds would be possible. 

Carlos said the residential side of it will not come until the base is built. From a hub in Vienna, Bluebird or other companies could extend off of the network, spreading out to provide stable speeds. 

Sweno asked how much it will cost to build out the network from Jefferson City to Rolla. Matt said they don’t know as the costs are built around how many partnerships they form, how many customers, and other variables. 

Stratman asked if they will use Highway 63 easements and they said yes, saying there is protocol for it. Carlos said the county “won’t be on the hook for the background work we do” such as right-of-way acquisition. He said where the community comes in is the conversation with partners as they are asking help from the county identifying corporations and companies to build out to. Stratman said it sounds as though they want the commissioners to identify potential customers. Carlos said identify people who will benefit from the fiber optic network and identify the needs. 

Stratman asked how they will get past the Osage and Gasconade Rivers. There are instances of using conduit on the bridge or burrowing under. Stratman said he doubted burrowing under is an option. 

Matt said demand will move the project. “This area is going to get lit,” he said. 

Stratman said how it will benefit individual companies is not easily identified. Matt said they understand the commissioners don’t know individual company needs, but as a local government the county is a good place to start. 

Carlos said they know this area needs these services. They are looking at how Bluebird can partner with the county and cities and drop hubs in. They have to get it here first. Outside of grant money, the company needs to see some recovery of money so they can get this build.

Sweno said he can think of a couple places who need better internet and that’s Maries R-1 School and Quaker Window Products. Carlos mentioned Meta, Argyle, Belle, Linn and Vienna as places they want to build out to have a wide area of good internet access. It’s driven by interest and from the carrier side, they figure out a way to bring it all together. 

Fagre asked about Wisper and Carlos said they are having conversations with the company. When they start building Bluebird wants to know where they are building to and to make it affordable. Sweno asked for some references. Carlos said they hope to have a better timeline soon. Stratman asked the Bluebird representatives to keep the county “in the loop.”

After the call ended Fagre wondered if this is a good deal. Sweno said anytime they can get that type of backbone here, it’s a start. Stratman said he didn’t like that residential is “incidental” as this is the area where there is the greatest need. Sweno said other companies can do it as there is existing fiber and they can put more in. Windstream is based on fiber. Sweno said he’s interested in the time frame. 

Fagre said there is a lot of money out there for broadband upgrades and a lot of interest in doing it. 

Drewel said he doubts if they could put a line of fiber optic from Jefferson City to Rolla in six months. Stratman said it will take a long time to get a plan together. Fagre said there are plans and businesses are looking for something better with internet services. 

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