MoDOT puts brakes on long-term road projects

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Following voter defeat of a proposed tax increase, the state transportation department is canceling or delaying contracts on more than 300 long-range road projects because of a lack of money.

The cutbacks on right-of-way purchases and engineering designs are estimated to save $120 million, which instead will be spent over the next four years on maintaining Missouri's existing roads, the department said Tuesday.

"It just doesn't make sense to invest in preliminary work on these projects if we don't have the money to build them," said Henry Hungerbeeler, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The decision comes after voters in August rejected a roughly $500 million annual tax increase, a good chunk of which would have gone to expand Missouri roads.

None of the cuts will affect projects scheduled in the next five years.

The department did not release a statewide list of projects being eliminated or delayed, referring people instead to district offices for local impacts. But Bob Brendel, who works in the department's project development office, provided a few examples of affected projects:

A study has been canceled that would have determined problems and future needs on most of Interstate 44, from Missouri 100 in Franklin County to the Oklahoma line.

In the St. Louis area, engineering and design work is being stopped on an Interstate 170 interchange in Ladue and on Missouri 367 south of Interstate 270. Work will be slowed on Page Avenue and Missouri 141 from Ladue to Olive. The reconstruction of Interstate 64 will continue with environmental documentation next summer but then will be re-evaluated.

In the Kansas City area, the scope will be reduced on a preliminary engineering study for a new bridge paralleling the Paseo Bridge on Interstate 29 over the Missouri River.

In central Missouri, a consultant will continue some work on the expansion of U.S. 50 from Jefferson City to Sedalia, then remaining design work will be done by department staff.

In recent years, the road and bridge budget for the transportation department has grown to nearly $1.4 billion, thanks partly to an infusion of money from state bonds. But available money is expected to drop to about $750 million annually as the influx of cash ends and the state instead begins repaying the bonds, the department said.

"The days of big construction programs are over, at least for the foreseeable future," Hungerbeeler said.

As the construction budget grew in recent years, the transportation department began hiring more consultants for design work and environmental location studies.

The cuts to design contracts are expected to total $30 million to $40 million, the department said.

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