Keeping the promises

Sunday, March 14, 2004

By Charles Kruse

For the past 10 years, the development of Missouri's transportation infrastructure has been riddled with controversy, broken promises, declining public trust, misleading information, an urban-rural funding feud and stagnation.

Missourians let their reaction be known loud and clear when 18 months ago voters overwhelmingly defeated by a 3-to-1 margin the only major transportation funding package to be considered since 1992. This is in such stark contrast to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the public had tremendous confidence in the leadership and the direction the state was headed and so much transportation progress was being made.

In November 1998 the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission made, without a doubt, one of its worst decisions ever when it voted to remove the highway plan promised to Missourians just six years earlier. Commission members even went so far as to say they did not feel bound by the promised highway and bridge improvements in the plan, even though it was approved with a six-cent fuel tax increase.

Can you believe it?

For rural roads -- traveled by urban and rural citizens alike -- the November 1998 commission decision was devastating, taking from rural highway improvements about a half-billion dollars in the last five to six years alone. Imagine the four-lane highways and other improvements that we could be using today if this shift in funding had not occurred.

Even now the commission is adding insult to injury by requiring local funding in the amount of 50 percent for some of the projects the state was to build. This not only has the effect of abrogating the state of its funding responsibility, it sets a requirement that may be unrealistic in many instances and also asks citizens in these areas to reach again into their pockets to pay for the projects.

All this can and should change. The commission has the authority and the financial resources to once again make a priority of the highway improvements promised to Missourians. The question is whether the commission has the character and political fortitude to do so.

It is reality today that state and federal revenue available to the commission is substantially higher than forecast 12 years ago. Also, the cost estimates for some of these projects are relatively close to the 1992 estimates and not two and three times higher as the public was told in 1998. And local communities will consider local funding when justified.

These three factors are the reasons the Missouri Farm Bureau proposed to the commission on Feb. 24 a plan of action called, Keeping the Promises by Building our Roads.

Commission members have said that we cannot keep looking backward. Voters have clearly sent a different message. Delivering what was promised to Missourians is not looking backward. Instead, it is the most forward-looking action the commission can take.

Charles Kruse of Dexter, Mo., is the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau in Jefferson City, Mo.

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