Minor bill may cost Missouri big bucks

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A little-noticed bill that would expand Kansas City's commercial zone to accommodate big trucks could cost the state as much as $48 million in federal highway funds, transportation officials say.

Legislative concern has stalled the bill in the House, where it had been scheduled for a final vote this evening. The bill passed the Senate last month as a consent item, meaning it was considered non-controversial.

At issue is a 1956 federal law allowing trucks traveling within large metropolitan areas to exceed standard weight limits for interstates and highways.

In Missouri, those commercial zones exist only around Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield and St. Joseph.

Legislation by Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, would expand the Kansas City zone a mile or so southward to include the intersection of U.S. 71 and Missouri 291 in Harrisonville.

The intent is to allow trucks to travel from a nearby rock quarry into the Kansas City area by remaining on major roads, said Caskey and local officials. Without changing the law, the trucks must either carry lighter loads or cut across smaller county roads to stay within the commercial zone.

In March, the Missouri Department of Transportation had said the change would cost the state nothing.

But after state Rep. Kate Hollingsworth raised concerns, officials recently determined that the bill could jeopardize up to $48 million in federal funds.

"This is a huge, huge issue," said Hollingsworth, D-Imperial, chairwoman of the House Fiscal Review and Government Reform Committee. At her request, the bill's sponsors have agreed to delay a House vote on it.

Caskey said he has asked U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., to seek a federal exception allowing the expansion of the Kansas City commercial zone.

"We're not going to let this piece of legislation jeopardize highway monies," Caskey said. "So if we cannot get some assurance from federal highway officials, we will not proceed."

The state has expanded its commercial trucking zones in the past.

But under an August 1989 agreement with the federal highway administration, the state transportation department agreed to oppose all future expansions if federal officials would accept all previous changes.

An expansion beyond the federally allowed commercial zones could result in a 10 percent penalty against a roughly $480 million pool of federal money for Missouri road construction and maintenance.

"An expansion of the commercial zone would allow those big, big trucks more room to roam," said Jeff Briggs, a spokesman for the state transportation department. "But the problem is those big trucks are not too good on the highways."

The pavement destruction caused by heavy trucks is exactly why Harrisonville officials had sought to expand the commercial trucking zone.

"We want to keep the big trucks on the state highways instead of going across the county roads and tearing them up and damaging them," said Cass County Clerk Gary Mallory, who brought the issue to Caskey's attention.

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Commercial zone bill is SB988 (Caskey).

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

Department of Transportation: http://www.modot.state.mo.us

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