Compensation for lost road access is OK'd

Saturday, May 17, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Rookie state Rep. Scott Lipke learned first-hand the legislative definition of a Christmas tree.

Lipke, R-Jackson, had sponsored a simple, two-page bill designed to ensure that the Missouri Department of Transportation fairly compensates landowners in his hometown for loss of road access caused by the redesign of Highway 34-72.

When the measure returned from the Senate, it had ballooned into a 180-page omnibus traffic regulations bill.

Though loaded with so-called ornaments, Lipke still got what he wanted. The bill passed 107-26 in the House of Representatives and 31-0 in the Senate. It needs Gov. Bob Holden's signature to become law.

MoDOT's controversial plan for a 3.5-mile section of Jackson's main thoroughfare calls for a divided four-lane road with limited left-turn access to homes and businesses along Highway 34-72. City officials and affected property owners had unsuccessfully lobbied for a five-lane road featuring a center turn lane. The department rejected that proposal because of safety concerns.

Courts have ruled that loss of access can be a factor in determining compensation when MoDOT takes land for road projects. However, Lipke said there are some conflicts in case law he hopes his bill will rectify.

"My bill provides a specific definition of what loss of access is," Lipke said. "Without that definition in law, judges could come up with their own definition."

The bill specifies that loss of access includes changes that prevent direct turns onto a particular piece of property.

Though prompted by the Jackson situation, the bill would apply to future MoDOT land purchases statewide.

MoDOT officials have said their plan for Highway 34-72 would directly affect 26 homes and six businesses while indirectly impacting another 104 homes and 27 businesses.

The bill contains a clause allowing it to become law immediately upon receiving the governor's signature. It was needed in this instance because MoDOT is currently in negotiations with landowners.

Other provisions of the expanded legislation would bring state regulations governing truck weights and commercial driver's licenses in line with federal rules, increase fees drunken drivers pay to attend mandatory substance abuse classes and bar tractor-trailers from traveling in the left lane on highways with more than two lanes.

Taking sides

The bill was nearly derailed because of a confrontation between one senator and House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

State Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, was unhappy the House stripped certain provisions from the bill but decided not to raise a fuss until Crowell stormed into the Senate chamber during a break and berated Griesheimer for his complaints. The usually jovial Griesheimer turned livid over the incident.

"The House majority floor leader came over and got in my face and damn near got into a fight with me," Griesheimer said after the Senate reconvened.

Griesheimer asked that the bill be returned to the House as a message to Crowell that such behavior won't be tolerated. Though senators were sympathetic to their colleague, they were unwilling to jeopardize the bill and rejected his request. Griesheimer then said he made his point and dropped his opposition.

The bill is HB 327.

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