MoDOT has opportunity to cut costs

Friday, November 16, 2001

Even if the Missouri Department of Transportation can justify its claim that it needs $1 billion a year of new revenue to do all the roadwork the state needs, it still faces a tough time with legislators. That was apparent when MoDOT presented its audit report to a legislative oversight committee this week.

The report is a new requirement imposed by the legislature after concerns mounted over MoDOT's cost estimates for the 1992 15-year plan, which were grossly inaccurate.

Indeed, members of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight didn't appear to get very excited about the report for fiscal year 2001, which ended June 30. There was good news in the report. For example, MoDOT's actual costs for highway and bridge projects completed last year were 1.4 percent ($7.6 million) less than anticipated. And the committee members seemed to be satisfied with MoDOT's new leadership under the direction of director Henry Hungerbeeler.

The only rough spot Hungerbeeler encountered in his visit to the joint committee was over possible ways to streamline highway maintenance -- and save money at the same time.

The MoDOT director suggested that there are as many as 370 highway maintenance facilities around the state that should be consolidated with other facilities because they are inefficient. In the process, Hungerbeeler assured committee members, no highway-department workers would lose their jobs. They would be transferred to other sites instead.

But the NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome kicked into high gear as soon as Hungerbeeler mentioned his cost-cutting idea. One state senator said he was concerned the proposed consolidations would adversely affect highway maintenance in his district and cost workers in his legislative district their jobs.

Legislators are torn in situations like this. On the one hand, they want to be cost-minded advocates of efficiency and effectiveness. At the same time, they want to make sure any available state dollars wind up benefiting their districts the most.

This is one reason why elected officials continue to talk about a decline in state revenue when total tax dollars continue to rise. For too many state officials, if the increase in revenue is at a slower pace than hoped for, it is characterized as a cut.

Too bad. If 370 MoDOT maintenance facilities aren't needed, they need to be shut down. The savings to the highway department could better be used to build and repair highways and bridges.

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