By Bob Watson
Thursday, February 5, 2015
With very little discussion, and a 5-0 vote, Missouri’s Highways and Transportation Commission on Wednesday approved the austerity plan called “Missouri’s 325 System — Tough Choices Ahead.”
It requires the state Transportation Department to concentrate on maintaining — at current levels — about 8,000 miles of the state’s nearly 34,000-mile highway system, while the other 26,000 miles are classified as “supplementary” and will receive only limited, routine maintenance.
MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said there were no changes made in the plan that first was introduced last month.
It still has a primary road going through every county.
In Mid-Missouri, the primary roads include:
• U.S. 50 in Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Osage and Gasconade counties.
• U.S. 54 in Cole, Callaway, Miller and Camden counties.
• U.S. 63 in Cole, Boone, Osage and Maries counties.
• Interstate 70 in Callaway and Boone counties.
• Missouri 17 in Cole and Miller counties.
• Missouri 5 in Moniteau, Morgan and Camden counties.
• Missouri 52 in Miller and Morgan counties.
• Missouri 42 in Miller and Maries counties.
• Missouri 28 in Maries and Gasconade counties.
• Missouri 19 in Gasconade County.
But other heavily traveled roads — including Missouri Boulevard and Missouri 179 in Jefferson City, Route B between Jefferson City and Meta and Route C between Jefferson City and Versailles, and Providence Road and Stadium Boulevard in Columbia — will be shifted to the supplementary system.
“This is about Missouri and Missourians and our roads and bridges across our state, and keeping them in good condition,” Nichols told commissioners Wednesday morning, “to be able to provide the competitive advantage that we need in our state for economic development, job creation and safety.
“Insufficient transportation funding affects us all.”
The problem isn’t new, he noted. Missouri has the nation’s seventh largest road system — but ranks 46th in funding.
The state’s 17 cents a gallon tax on each gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel sold hasn’t changed since 1996, but costs — especially for materials used in road-building and maintenance, and for labor — have climbed significantly during the last two decades.
Right now, Nichols said, “Our customer satisfaction is at 85 percent — but we’re not going to be able to continue that way,” because the dwindling amounts of money available for major maintenance or construction will leave more and more motorists unhappy with road conditions.
The number in the program’s name is the amount of money — $325 million — the department will have available each year for road and bridge maintenance, starting in 2017.
“It takes $485 million just to be able to keep the system in the condition it is in today,” Nichols told the commissioners. “It takes $160 million more than we will have to maintain what we have.”
And MoDOT won’t have enough money available to match federal funds, a process which previously helped Missouri accomplish road improvements.
The shortfall also means more of Missouri’s crumbling bridges will face being closed in the future because the state won’t have the money to replace them.
Nichols acknowledged MoDOT still will have about a $2 billion budget, but much of the money is obligated for other expenses, including paying off the bonds sold about a decade ago to pay for the “Smoother Roads” initiative that resurfaced the most heavily traveled roads.
He said MoDOT crews still will do the best they can to maintain the existing system, but the focus on the 8,000 miles of primary roads carrying the most traffic will leave the 26,000 miles of supplemental roads like “a patchwork quilt, of going out and patching roads and doing some pothole repairs.”
With a snowstorm in Wednesday’s forecast, Nichols promised MoDOT won’t shirk winter clean-up efforts. But he said an expensive year like last year will take money from the possible improvements in the next summer.
He said lawmakers have suggested several options — including a 2 cents per gallon fuel tax increase for each of the next six years and converting Interstate 70 to a toll road — but none of the ideas have substantial support and will continue to be discussed during the 2015 legislative session.