The Chester Bridge replacement project has officially begun.
Last Thursday, Missouri Department of Transportation Project Engineer Jason Williams confirmed to the Herald Tribune that the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission has executed the design consultant agreement between MoDOT and engineering firm CH2M.
The MHTC met March 8 for its monthly meeting, but Williams said this type of contract did not need approval from the commission board.
"This type of agreement/contract would not be approved at the monthly Commission meetings," Williams said in an email to the newspaper. "This type of agreement is common (although this one is larger in scope than most) and authority to execute is delegated to the commission secretary (Pamela Harlan).
"When the NEPA study is done, we will have to get 'location and design' approval to move forward with detailed design and funding for construction -- this step does require Commission action at the monthly meetings."
MoDOT selected CH2M to perform the environmental study, the first part of the process toward eventual replacement of the 75-year-old, functionally obsolete bridge, last fall. However, due to state and federal regulations, contract discussions were not allowed as part of a process called Qualification-Based Selection.
Thus, MoDOT and CH2M have been hammering out contract details during the winter months. The contract includes a fee schedule that establishes a baseline for all costs - such as hourly labor and preparing the preliminary and final reports - charged to MoDOT for the study.
Williams previously told the Herald Tribune that the corridor study area, as described in the contract, is centered on the Chester area.
"There will likely be another short lull here at the beginning, as CH2M assembles and organizes its team and much of the initial investigatory work will not be all that visible to the public," he said.
Williams wrote he anticipates public outreach on the project to begin within the next several months.
"At this time I would anticipate public communications and outreach efforts to begin around late spring/early summer, and continue periodically leading up to the formal public hearing (tentatively, summer/fall of 2018)," Williams wrote.
Williams later added that the public will have ample time to provide input on the project prior to the hearing, which is anticipated to be when CH2M would present its findings.
While the environmental study did not need MHTC approval, the commission did recently receive a written report on environmental studies - as requested by the commission and prepared by State Design Engineer Eric Schroeter - according to meeting minutes posted on the MHTC website.
"Prior to approving an environmental or planning study, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requires the construction for the given project to be included in the region's long range transportation plan," the minutes state. "Furthermore, the construction for the project must be obligated within 10 years or the federal funds used for the study must be repaid.
"Districts that fund a planning or environmental study must commit to fund and program the construction of the projects prior to the final approval of the study by FHWA. For this reason, districts should only undertake studies for projects they anticipate funding in the next 10 years."
The minutes also note that should a local or private entity propose to provide funding for an environmental study, it must also commit to funding the construction of the project in the following 10 years prior to FHWA approval of the study documents.
As far as what's next, Williams said MoDOT plans to meet with CH2M representatives and discuss a tentative schedule of the study process.