Filling in the cracks: Transportation fund has been 'huge' for meeting city's infrastructure needs, officials say

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Ben Johnson smoothes concrete on the freshly poured steps of a home Tuesday along Big Bend Road in Cape Girardeau. The construction on Big Bend Road is being funded by the Transportation Trust Fund. (Laura Simon)

Even before Al Spradling was elected Cape Girardeau's mayor in 1994, he noticed the city's streets and sidewalks -- its most basic form of infrastructure -- were in desperate need of repair.

Too many streets were gravel and those that weren't were too narrow to satisfy the city's burgeoning traffic counts. The concrete curbs and gutters that ran alongside were crumbling literally to pieces in spots. And the sidewalks, where there were any, had developed deep cracks that made navigation a nightmare for some.

"Everything was breaking up," Spradling recalled Tuesday. "We had so much poor infrastructure, so many things we wanted to do. But we already had tremendous pressure on our general operating budget and no real way to pay for many improvements."

So the city's staff, with input from others, put together a ballot proposal that would ask voters to authorize a new program known as the Transportation Trust Fund, a half-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects. But city leaders had learned from a failed attempt earlier that decade that had been met with opposition and was soundly defeated at the ballot box.

This time, in 1995, voters were presented with a specific list of projects before the election. Unlike the previous proposal, this one had a sunset and would expire in five years. Spradling and others saw this as a way of holding the city accountable.

If the city kept its word, did the work with the budget it was given, then maybe voters would approve another measure when the tax expired. Over 16 years, voters have continuously approved Transportation Trust Fund proposals every five years since, most recently in 2010.

City leaders past and present pronounce the program a success. Since its inception, TTF has designated more than $60 million in specific street improvements in Cape Girardeau. The pay-as-you-go program allows the money generated by the tax to be used only for street improvements. TTF-4, approved last year, will generate more than $21 million over five years. About 15 percent of that money is set aside for contingencies.

This summer, work begins or continues on the last three of the nine projects from TTF-3, including improvements to Bloomfield Road, Big Bend Road and Vantage Drive. The widening of Big Bend Road is expected to be completed by the fall, which includes widening the road from Sloan Creek to Cape Rock Drive, as well as adding a sidewalk to its east side, said city engineer Kelly Green.

The Cape Girardeau City Council awarded the $1.2 million contract on phase four of Bloomfield Road at its meeting Monday night. That work includes realigning the road and installing about 2,280 new linear feet of new roadway for County Road 206, installing retaining walls, fencing, storm sewer improvements, an eight-foot-wide trail and other improvements. That project is expected to begin in the next month or so, Green said.

The city is acquiring easements for Armstrong Drive, the other project that is to take place this year. Armstrong Drive is a new road that will be constructed west of Siemers Drive and is expected to be a prime spot for new commercial development.

TTF-4 projects will begin next year. A $2.85 million Broadway project will rehabilitate sidewalks and add new curbs and gutters from Pacific to Water streets. That project was moved to the top of the priority list, Green said, so it could be finished by the time the new casino opens. Another $1 million will be used to pay for historic lighting, trees and benches. That money will come from money Isle of Capri paid for city-owned property. A meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Discovery Playhouse to gather public input on the streetscape.

In 2013, work will be done to downtown sidewalks, the next phase of Bloomfield Road and improvements will be made to the intersection of Lexington Avenue, Route W and Kingsway Drive, among others.

The Transportation Trust Fund has made an incredible difference to economic development, said John Mehner, president and CEO of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It's been huge," Mehner said. "With the way TTF is set up, it's a running scorecard. As long as the city lays out their plan, do what they say they're going to do and do it, then there's no reason this can't continue. I don't know where we would be if we hadn't taken control of the situation locally in 1995."

City manager Scott Meyer said that transportation drives a community's success or failure.

"It's an indicator of the health of a community," Meyer said. "I think it's been a formula that has worked."


Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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