Highway commission OKs decreased spending through 2011

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From staff and wire reports

FRONTENAC, Mo. -- Spending on Missouri roads and transportation will face a dramatic decrease five years from now, from $1.6 billion next year to $700 million in 2011 partly because materials have become so expensive, highway officials said Tuesday.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission gave a five-year, $7.1 billion highway spending plan final approval Tuesday in the St. Louis suburb of Frontenac. The 2007-2011 plan will spend $5.7 billion on highway and bridge projects. Local transportation projects as well as air, water and rail transportation make up the remaining $1.4 billion of the plan.

The two substantive projects approved in Cape Girardeau County are replacements of the Whitewater River bridge and Byrd Creek bridge. There is also money put aside for highway lighting improvements at the Route KK interchange on Interstate 55 in Cape Girardeau County and the Route I-55/57 interchange in Scott County.

"There's quite a few important projects on the way in Southeast Missouri, but there's not money available for adding new major construction projects in 2011," Shelton says, "because the Amendment 3 resources run out, and our state transportation program goes back to normal spending levels. This concerns us along with rising construction costs and declining revenues."

Program planners blame the decreased spending over the next few years partly on the increased costs of road and bridge materials and inflation. Another factor is that in later years the department will have to begin repaying debts for projects funded by a constitutional amendment that redirects money to transportation.

Taxpayers will need to address the issue sooner rather than later, said Highways and Transportation Commission chairman Bill McKenna.

"We have lots going on now, but in 2 1/2 years we'll be right back where we started," McKenna said. "We have to be forward-thinking and don't wait until that happens."

More than 900 highway and bridge projects are scheduled across the state through 2011. Major projects include the massive rebuilding of Interstate 64 through St. Louis. That $535-million rebuild will run from next year through 2010.

Missouri Department of Transportation director Pete Rahn said local communities have had a significant role in how transportation dollars are spent and in choosing which projects are done first.

Continued improvement

Despite the decreased spending to come in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, chief engineer Kevin Keith said the state will continue to deliver all the promised projects and improve the conditions of the state's major roadways.

"We have been conservative. Even if price pressure gets worse, we can still deliver projects," Keith said. "It's a lot different from last year's environment."

Transportation officials said the projects should help put 85 percent of Missouri's most traveled roads in good or better condition by 2011, the best conditions Missouri roads will have ever seen. The remaining 15 percent would be in fair condition.

The department updates its five-year plan each year, and this year's plan -- running from July 1 through June 30, 2011 -- represented a significant change from the 2006-2010 plan, which was the largest in state history.

Southeast Missourian writer TJ Greaney contributed to this report.

In November 2004, Missouri voters passed a constitutional change directing motor vehicle sales tax revenues and other highway user fees to the Department of Transportation, not into the state's general revenues. Voters also approved road bonds to be paid off with that influx of money.

The amendment redirects a greater share of that money into road projects over several years, but the department decided to take advantage of it sooner and issued bonds to repave roads, accelerate some projects and start new ones based on what it will collect in coming years.

By 2011, the department will have to use that money to start paying off those bonds, meaning money won't be available to take on major new construction projects. The state transportation program will go back to normal spending levels at that time.

On Tuesday, the commission also approved $800 million in Series 2006 Road Bonds. Three financial rating agencies gave the bonds a double-A plus rating, the highest for any such transportation bonds in the country, according to transportation officials.

Those bonds will be sold from July 25 to Aug. 8.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: