MoDOT official discusses initiatives at First Friday Coffee

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Missouri Department of Transportation district engineer Mark Shelton believes transportation development, economic prosperity and safety go hand in hand.

Shelton said proceeds sold from $1.9 billion in bonds following the passage of Amendment 3 in 2004 have created 7,500 jobs a year, helped lower traffic fatalities to fewer than 1,000 deaths on the roadways in 2007, and upgraded 2,200 miles of roads including Interstate 55 and U.S. 61 through Cape Girardeau.

But by fiscal year 2010, Shelton said funding these initiatives could be in jeopardy.

If the state doesn't allocate more funding, Shelton estimates that only $569 million will be available to spend on road work annually. Shelton said that amount will not be enough to maintain Missouri's highways in their current condition. In 2008, MoDOT spent $1.23 billion on its construction programs.

"Taxpayers need to have confidence that their money is being stewarded well," Shelton told business leaders during the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce First Friday Coffee at the Show Me Center. "That's our goal at MoDOT — to be good stewards."

On a national level, motorists are driving less and buying less fuel, which in turn fails to raise enough funds from gasoline taxes to keep pace with the cost of road, bridge and transit programs. According to The Associated Press, members of the National Commission on Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing will issue a report in late January urging Congress to raise the gas tax by 10 cents from its current level of 18.4 cents a gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 12 to 15 cents per gallon to between 36.4 and 39.4 cents per gallon.

The commission is also expected to recommend states raise their fuel taxes and make greater use of toll roads and fees for rush-hour driving, the AP said.

Transportation priorities

Shelton said MoDOT has identified five top priorities. They are:

— Taking care of the state's roads and bridges.

Shelton said 90 percent of Missourians live within 10 miles of the most heavily traveled roads and the goal is to raise the percentage of those roads in good condition from its current level of 78 percent up to 85 percent. He added that the less-traveled roads make up 27,000 of the state's 32,800 miles of roadways but only 20 percent of all travel happens on these roads. Shelton said only 62 percent of these roads are in good condition and that number should be increased to 75 percent.

As for bridges, Shelton said 20 of Missouri's 206 bridges, including the Highway 51 bridge over the Mississippi River in Perry County, are at the top of the list of those in need of repair or replacement.

To maintain roads and bridges, the estimated cost over a 20-year period will be $12.9 billion, or $645 million a year.

— Improve ways of providing other methods of transportation.

Establishing and improving nonhighway travel options such as passenger rail, ports and public transit would cost an estimated $2.04 billion over 20 years, or $102 million annually.

— Rebuild Interstates 70 and 44.

MoDOT said the two interstates are the state's economic lifelines, with 3.1 million people located within 10 miles of the two roadways. Shelton said $7.2 billion over 20 years, or $360 million annually, is needed to rebuild the 50-year-old roads that were only designed to last 20 years.

— Tackle 46 other major projects.

The projects in Southeast Missouri are widening U.S. 67 to four lanes from U.S. 160 south of Poplar Bluff to the Arkansas state line, improving the two-laned Highway 34 from Piedmont to U.S. 72 and improving Interstate 55 from Fruitland to south of Scott City. This would cost about $5.32 billion over 20 years, or $266 million annually.

— Meet regional needs through increased funding for cost-share programs.

Shelton said this allows communities to share project costs with MoDOT to help their region grow. The estimated cost would be $3.8 billion over 20 years, or $190 million annually.

The community is invited to attend an in depth discussion on transportation needs in the state during a Missouri Transportation Alliance meeting on Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Show Me Center.

"In today's times if we're going forward with projects that are funded it's critical," Shelton said. "The public needs to understand what the situation is so they can make a good decision when it comes time to come to the polls."

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