More projects in area could get road funds

Friday, June 21, 2002

By Marc Powers ~ Southeast Missourian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Voter approval of a proposed tax package for transportation could pay for a number of Southeast Missouri road projects not specifically identified in the spending plan state transportation officials will use to build support for the measure.

On Tuesday, the Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission is expected to give final approval to a plan that outlines projects to be built in the next 10 years with passage of 4-cent-per-gallon fuel tax hike and half-cent sales tax increase.

The measure, Proposition B, will appear on the Aug. 6 ballot. If approved, the taxes would raise $483 million a year, costing the average family of four with two drivers $149 annually.

The commission was presented with three spending options on June 14 that contained identical road and bridge projects. However, only a portion of available funds in each option are earmarked for certain projects.

The plans promise just two Southeast Missouri projects -- finishing the four-laning of Highway 60 from Van Buren to Cabool and upgrading Highway 412 from Hayti to Kennett to four lanes.

Looking ahead

Scott Meyer, the Department of Transportation's district engineer for the Southeast Missouri, pitched a number of other regional projects for inclusion in the plan but they didn't make the cut. However that doesn't mean they're out of the running to be built in the next decade.

"Some of those projects could be funded with other pots of money," Meyer said.

Those projects include:

  • Improvements to Highway 177 in Cape Girardeau County.

  • Extending the Interstate 55 outer road from Route AB to Scott City.

  • Adding an extra lane in both directions on I-55 between Cape Girardeau and Scott City.

  • Improving Highway 67 from St. Francois County to Butler County.

  • Widening Highway 53 in Butler and Dunklin counties.

  • Widening and resurfacing Highway 60 from I-57 to the Mississippi River bridge in Mississippi County.

    All three spending options assume MoDOT would have an average of $1.22 billion a year available for road and bridges. That is a combination of existing money and new revenue from the tax increase.

    The options call for $510 million to $554 million a year on major projects, which are the only ones specifically listed. Only 80 percent of that revenue is allocated up front to give highway planners some flexibility to address future needs.

    Another $464 million to $574 million a year would be used to improve existing roads -- none of which are identified in the plan.

    Both the unallocated money for major projects and the funding for improvements could -- and in the latter case most likely be -- used to pay for needed Southeast Missouri projects.

    The remaining pieces of the highway spending pie under all three options would provide $75 million a year to pay off bond debt and $20 million annually for economic development. Two of the options would set aside $110 million a year for interstate improvements. The third option includes interstate projects in other, more general categories.

    Making the list

    Kevin Keith, MoDOT's district engineer, said more Southeast Missouri projects could be specifically included in the plan by the time the commission signs off on it.

    "We are trying to identify what are those type of projects around the state that are important to the commission," Keith said. "I think they may pick and choose some of those projects to put on the final list."

    Missouri Farm Bureau president Charles Kruse said MoDOT needs to provide as many details as possible to sway voters. Farm Bureau has been a key player on past transportation tax issues, but hasn't yet taken a position on Proposition B.

    "The more specific they get the better -- not just on projects but allocation of resources," Kruse said.

    That means a fairer funding distribution between urban and rural areas based on need, Kruse said. Highway spending used to favor rural areas, which have more miles of road. In recent years, MoDOT policy has more evenly divided resources between urban and rural interests.

    "Some people in Jefferson City seem to think that is not a big deal," Kruse said. "As I travel around the state talking to people, they think it's a big deal.

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