WARNING: The following blog contains subject matter that may be objectionable to those with tender tummies. If you have weak stomach, you may not want to read this while eating.
The Missouri Department of Transportation recently announced that its proposed construction budget for the next five years is going to be significantly leaner. Anorexic lean, one could say.
The agency is projecting to spend half of what it currently does per year or just $600 million. Their plan is to slash offices, slash projects, slash surplus equipment and slash personnel.
In regard to staffing, MoDOT has apparently already started tightening its fiscal belt. I base this on my observations while driving to my parent's home in Ste. Genevieve County this past Sunday.
It was apparent that all of the Road Kill Technicians who patrol I-55 in our part of the state have already been let go.
I don't normally pay much attention to road kill. I may comment on the remains of a big deer or feel sorry for someone's dead pet, but that is usually as involved as I get. I've certainly never been one to count the number of animals that have been blindsided by highway traffic... until this past Sunday.
After I passed at least the twelfth dead animal around the I-55 Fruitland exit I decided to start counting. By the time I got off the interstate at mile marker 154, I had spotted 65 more. On the way home, I counted an additional 92.
I think that's a lot for 60 miles of interstate. However, since I've never been one to keep a logbook of the road kill I've seen during drives I have nothing to compare it to. I just have a hunch that it's a excessive.
I spotted nothing big during my impromptu survey, no deer or wayward cows. It was mostly canines, raccoons, rabbits, possums, a few birds, one skunk and a number of things I could not identify while driving by at 76 miles an hour, but am positive were 100% certifiable road kill.
But what I found especially interesting were the number of armadillos. Their shell makes them easy to spot and of the 169 dead animals I counted, at least a fifth of them were those strange-looking mammals.
While I have no explanation as to why armadillos are congregating by the dozens along an interstate in Southeast Missouri, perhaps cash-strapped MoDOT could use this to its advantage.
Why not change the name of boring, old I-55 to something a little catchier like the Armadillo Expressway and build a few toll plazas. Don't think this is a far-fetched idea. While re-naming the interstate has not been discussed, MoDOT has studied the viability of toll roads.
A report released in 2002 identified a number of interstates -- I-55 being one of them -- that would make great toll roads in our state. Granted, a few minor things would have to happen before MoDOT could build and manage any pay-for-using highways. First the Missouri General Assembly would have to grant the agency the authority to become a toll road operator and there are some federal hurdles that would have to be overcome. But I'm sure that's all just paperwork.
The financial benefits for MoDOT could be immense according to the information included in the study about toll roads in neighboring states.
For instance in 2001, Illinois had 274 miles of toll roads that generated over $366 million in revenue. Maintenance and capital investment on those roads was only pegged at $164 million leaving $202 million to spend on other important things like paying the salaries of the Road Kill Technicians.