Transportation panel recommends management, funding changes

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The state transportation department needs to change its management, seek new funding and publicly apologize for dropping a 1992 highway plan as its financial blueprint, according to a report by a citizens advisory panel.

The report adopted Thursday comes from a panel appointed by the state Highways and Transportation Commission after the overwhelming voter defeat last year of a roughly $500 million transportation tax plan.

Many state officials interpreted the election as a vote of no confidence in the transportation agency.

A significant cause of its credibility problems is the commission's 1998 decision to quit using a 15-year-old road plan -- just six years after it was adopted along with a tax increase -- because it was underfunded by about $1 billion annually, the panel said.

"Although the 1992 plan was flawed from its inception, the commission should acknowledge publicly that the 1998 decision to suspend the 1992 plan was a breach of the public's trust that will not occur again," the report says.

The report also suggests the commission change the culture of the Department of Transportation by reorganizing top management, streamlining its bureaucracy and pushing as many decisions as possible down to regional highway districts.

Also recommended are two ways to get more money for highways -- allowing toll roads and eventually ending the diversion of highway dollars to other state agencies.

Panel chairman Jack Magruder of Kirksville said Missouri's competing urban, rural and regional interests must come together to support new transportation funding sources.

"Until we get to the point at which we're willing to provide more resources, we're not going to see tremendous improvement," Magruder said. "The item associated with that is to increase the credibility, increase the integrity -- at least the perceived integrity -- of the whole operation."

The panel is to present the report Tuesday to the state Highways and Transportation Commission.

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