2012 has been a pretty good year for transportation improvements in northeast Missouri. A special panel is working to make sure that can continue.
In Lewis County, a new Route 16 Bridge now spans Sugar Creek.
Deann Turner lives outside of Ewing and travels throughout the county for her job. She says the fact that the bridge was widened by several feet makes for a much safer trip across the creek.
“This will make it very nice,” says Turner. “Plus my husband and my father-in-law farm and they use the elevators on this side (of the county), so this will make it safer for them and that makes it very nice for them.”
Clark County also got in on the transportation action as Kahoka teamed with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) on the construction of two downtown sidewalks.
Mayor Wayne Blum says the new sidewalks are welcome sights, adding that his community would like to replace the remaining sidewalks along the downtown square.
Area Engineer Amy Crawford says whether MODOT will be able to help with a project like that remains to be seen.
“We are going to do the best we can with what we have and we are going to make the most of the money we do have,” says Crawford, “but until something changes on the funding aspect at the state level and at the federal level… you will not see as many projects as you have seen in the last few years.”
The uncertainty Crawford describes is something MODOT has been anticipating for several years: a financial cliff that some say the agency has already fallen from.
CFO Robert Broeker says MODOT’s budget will shrink from $1.2-billion/year to $600-million/year next year. That dramatically cuts into the amount of money available for transportation projects throughout the state.
Broeker says there are many factors contributing to the reduction, starting with high gasoline prices keeping people out of their vehicles and off of Missouri’s roads and streets.
She says less time on the roads means less revenue from the gasoline tax.
“When it flirts with $3.50/gallon or $4.00/gallon, people begin to drive less,” says Broeker. “They find other ways, they combine their trips, they carpool… they drive fewer miles. The other thing that happens is at the national level, we have a push towards improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles.”
Broeker says two other issues are that the federal transportation bill includes about 70-million dollars less for Missouri and that the state’s gasoline tax has not increased in 20 years, so it has not kept up with inflation or construction costs.
She made her comments in Hannibal before the “Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri’s Transportation Needs.”
The 22-member panel is a mix of public and private citizens with direct connections to transportation in Missouri. It has been charged with preparing a report on the state’s transportation needs.
Former House Speaker Rod Jetton is serving as Co-Chair of the committee. He says a recently-completed outline covers a wide range of topics, including methods for increasing revenue.
“People talked about sales tax, fuel tax, vehicle miles traveled,” says Jetton. “There were some very innovative ideas on fees and licensing and different ways to raise money to help meet the looming shortfall that is going to happen with our highway and transportation funding.”
MODOT estimates a $0.01 increase in Missouri’s gasoline tax would generate $30-million/year while a $0.01 sales tax would bring in $700-million/year.
Jetton says the agency has been very proactive in cutting hundreds of jobs, closing offices and selling equipment in anticipation of the lost revenue.
He says because of that, this report to the state legislature should be an educational alarm for Missouri residents.
“Missourians usually feel like if they could trust that you were going to build a product, they invested in infrastructure and transportation,” says Jetton, “because they know it does improve the economy, it adds jobs, it brings in companies and attracts them to our state. Most important, you know your kids and families are going to be safer traveling out on the highways.”
Jetton says the committee would like to complete its report by Thanksgiving.