MoDOT funds dry up
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MoDOT funds dry up

Date: November 7, 2007
By: Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A a recent report from Missouri's Transportation Department warns that a decrease in funding may cause MoDOT construction projects to come to a standstill.

In it's annual report, MoDOT expressed a need for a budget increase now that funds from Amendment 3 are drying up. On the other hand, it also bragged that Missouri has gone from having the third worst pavement on major roads to the ninth best, 74 percent of major roads are  in good condition and Missouri recorded the largest drop in traffic related fatalities.

Jeff Briggs, MoDOT spokesperson, said that MoDOT may not be able to continue on this road of improvement if they do no find a solution to a huge decrease in funding.

Amendment 3, approved by the voters in 2004, allowed the department to issue bonds for an expanse road repair program.  But with the department now saddled with paying off those bonds, the department warns it approved may not be able to focus on future expansion. "We will be going to maintenance only mode", said Briggs. He said that they will have to maintain roads rather than rebuild them as need be.

"We are averaging over $1 billion a year in road construction.", which is more than half of MoDOT's budget of $2 billion. Briggs said that by 2010 MoDOT's budget for construction projects will be reduced to $569 million.

"The chickens are coming home to roost.", said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St Louis County and member of the Senate Transportation Committee, in reference to the department's decision to float bonds. She said that she supported a system that would pay for construction as they go, rather than accumulating the cost quickly and paying for construction all at once. "Now the bill is due."

The chairs of both the House and Senate Transportation Committee have proposed plans to turn I-70 into an eight lane highway, four of which would be designated specifically for trucks. The project, however, would cost about $3.5 billion and require voter approval for a significant package of tax increases. 

Although not endorsing the tax-increase plan, the department's annual report made reference to the growing Interstate problems.

"The road is getting more and more congested every year. Thirteen million miles are driven on that road a day."  The US Department of Transportation recently chose Missouri as one of the six corridors of the future, funding a study on how to improve I-70.

When I-70 was built there were 180 million people in the US, and now there are 300 million." said the Senate's Transportation Committee Chairman -- Sen. Bill Stouffer, D-Napton..

Because of the congestion, Stouffer said that I-70 is a "safety nightmare." He said he believes that educating the public on need for infrastructure is a necessity.

Stouffer said that citizens don't have to think about road construction on a daily basis. "Citizens don't think of infrastructure until they're stuck in traffic or damage is done to their cars. It's not their job."

In the legislative session earlier this year, Stouffer proposed a one-cent sales tax increase for Interstate expansion.  His proposal, which never came up for a vote, would have required statewide voter approval and would have expired at the end of 2018.

Reconstructing the highway would have a huge impact on Missouri citizens. He said 36 percent of the state's jobs are located within three miles of I-70 or I-44.

In exploring ways to increase funds, Stouffer said that "We have to look at all options." He said he would prefer to steer clear of regressive taxes that greatly impact the working class. "Fuel tax is my least favorite."

Big projects are not the only things on MoDOT's agenda. "There is still significant need on the pavement side", said Briggs.

"I think they're in trouble", said Bray. "We have to have a package." Bray said. "One tax isn't going to do it." 

Briggs said that MoDOT is supportive of any initiative to increase revenue.