Phelps County Commissioners have been asked to find a bridge project that will obligate all of the county’s Bridge Replacement Off-System (BRO) funds.

Jenni Jones, a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) planning official, spoke with the commission Thursday morning about the obligation, which the department is asking of all counties in the state.

With a fiscal year 2013 allocation of $115,819.45, the county’s balance totaled $285,854.74 as of Nov. 27 of this year. The county's soft match funds total $18,143.38.

A soft match is a credit earned by counties that replaces their deficient bridges with local funding. This soft match can be used in lieu of the 20 percent local match on bridge projects.

District Two Commissioner Bud Dean said MoDOT is requesting all counties’ BRO funds be obligated because there is a concern that the federal government will take them away if not used.

Dean also said some versions of a new federal long-term transportation bill did not include BRO funds or included wording that allows each state to spend the funds any way it wants, meaning the funds may not have to be distributed to counties.

Jones emphasized that obligating the BRO funds does not mean that the county funds are going to be a negative amount. BRO funds are appropriated by the state based on deficient bridges in each county.

The BRO funds also can be traded for soft match credit among counties and Dean suggested looking at that possibility to gain a large amount of soft match credits.

The trades must be complete before funds are obligated for the construction portion of the project.

The funds can be used for engineering and construction of certain eligible bridges. Jones provided the commission with a list of 17 eligible crossings in the county. Some of the bridges are eligible for full replacement while others are for partial replacement only.

Two of the bridges with the worst sufficiency rating in Phelps County are the County Road 7460 bridge and County Road 7530 bridge, which both cross the Little Piney Creek, and are rated 20.3 percent and 18.5 percent respectively.

Commissioners noted that replacing the County Road 7530 bridge, known as the Grotto Bridge, was estimated at one time to cost $750,000 to $1 million.

The bridge was closed by a commission order on Dec. 15, 2009, after a MoDOT engineer inspected it and suggested the bridge’s lifespan was over.

Additionally, in early October, the commission received a petition to vacate a section of the road. Under state statutes, the commission cannot take action on the petition until the next quarter, which would be after Jan. 1, 2013.

The commission on Thursday agreed to talk with County Road Superintendent Walter Snelson to come up with a suggested bridge project.

Because of the time it takes for engineering and construction, it was suggested to also consider obligating the fiscal year 2014 allocation of BRO funds, which should be about the same as the 2013 allocation.

After the commissioners select a bridge, they must then start a programming agreement with MoDOT before or during a solicitation for engineering firms to design the project.