Local school district sides with Stenger on donor bridge issue

On Tuesday, representatives of the Rockwood School District asked the St. Louis County Council to consider student safety before voting on the $2.5 million Lewis Road bridge project.

The district recently switched to an in-house busing system, putting the bridge project on the district’s radar. While just one bus must cross Lewis Road Bridge, the district’s golf teams practice at Crescent Farms public golf club, requiring students to cross the bridge regularly.

The bridge is an ongoing source of conflict between County Executive Steve Stenger and several council members, as it leads to the property of Michael Roberts, an area businessman and Stenger donor.

In 2014, Roberts contributed upwards of $40,000 to the county executive’s campaign fund. This revelation drew the ire of Stenger critics, fueling claims of pay-to-play, though the bridge was first identified for replacement by former County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Stenger says his support for the Lewis Road bridge is a matter of public safety.

Eureka Fire Chief Greg Brown has echoed those concerns.

“I’ve ordered my people to only cross those bridges in the event of an emergency,” Brown told the Council Tuesday.

The bridge has been called the worst in the state and was awarded a sufficiency rating of 2 percent by the Missouri Department of Transportation. It receives weekly inspections.

Still, Council Chairman Sam Page has reservations. “$2.5 million is a lot to give to a bridge that would benefit one county owner,” Page said.

The chairman recommended opening the lines of communication between Roberts and the Council before moving forward, suggesting Roberts could pay a portion of the bridge’s repair costs or participate in a Transportation Development District (TTD) program.

Page proposed breaking the single bill in question into two parts—a version with just the Allen Road Bridge and one with just the Lewis Road Bridge. The current bill includes both, and the Allen Road Bridge has received the full support of the council.

After a discussion on the legality of dividing the issue, the council perfected the original bill.

The issue will be revisited next Tuesday when the council considers a version of the bill containing just the Lewis Road Bridge.

Page said this plan will allow the council to move forward on the Allen Road bridge project.

Both the Allen Road Bridge and the Lewis Road Bridge are eligible for up to $750,000 each in matching federal funds as both have been identified by East West Gateway as top projects.

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