Join the Highway 37/60 crusade

Thursday, May 4, 2006

The four-laning of Highway 37 from Monett to the Arkansas state line continues to be one of Barry County's top priorities. For several years now, a coalition of cities, counties, chambers and business interests have been working hard through the Highway 37/60 Corridor Coalition to make sure the transportation needs of southwest Missouri are heard loud and clear in Jefferson City.

Although the project is still years in the making, the Coalition has made progress and taken the steps necessary to get the Highway 37/60 Corridor on the Missouri Department of Transportation and Missouri Highway Commission's radar maps. Last year, the project received $2.5 million in federal money through the 2005 Federal Transportation Bill. This funding has been earmarked for a design study on the project, which is the first step that must be completed before the highway project is approved for construction. The Coalition's next objective will be to get the Highway 37/60 project included in the state's five-year STIP plan, another necessary hurdle that must be crossed.

Last Friday, a large group of concerned and involved community members from across Barry County and down into northwest Arkansas packed the downstairs courtroom of the Barry County Courthouse to welcome Pete Rahn, MoDOT director, to Barry County. Rahn seemed impressed with the turnout and was given the opportunity to be reminded of the needs of southwest Missouri, especially pertaining to the highway corridor that links our state with northwest Arkansas. Population figures alone show that the Highway 37/60 Corridor links two of the fastest growing areas of the nation together.

Rahn made no promises when it came to whether or not major improvements along the Highway 37/60 Corridor would be completed. We appreciated his honesty and would rather hear the truth than empty promises. Rahn did assure the audience that a design study was a positive step in the right direction and necessary if the project was to move onto the construction phase. We also came away from last week's meeting with a belief that the Highway 37/60 project was a top priority in this district. This is also good news for Barry County. Rahn's message also warned of an expected drop in transportation funding over the next five years and the need to create a new revenue source to continue making improvements to the state's highway system. Without a new infusion of funding, MoDOT will be forced to focus on maintenance of its existing system rather than starting any more major improvement projects.

As the tremendous growth experienced to our south extends north into our county, it's imperative we have the infrastructure in place to support such growth. That is why we as a county must be vigilant in supporting continued improvements along Highway 37. We must retain a strong voice in Jefferson City and make sure this corner of the state is not forgotten. It is also important that we pay attention to solutions set forth by our elected officials to increase funding for highways. As Rahn pointed out during his speech, funding in Missouri slows down in the year 2011 and by then it's crucial we have another funding option in place. I would hope Barry Countians realize the need for transportation funds and would support a common sense solution.

In closing, I would like to thank one man who has made the Highway 37/60 Corridor a personal crusade. Cherry Warren takes every opportunity to promote our area of the state wherever he is and with whomever he is speaking. Warren is a strong advocate of any issue that promotes Barry County, especially the Highway 37/60 project. We all owe Warren a debt of gratitude for serving as chairman of the Coalition and for serving on several statewide transportation committees. He has been described as a "bull dog" when it comes to this highway project and I'm glad we have someone in our corner fighting so strongly for a project that will ensure the continued prosperity and growth of Barry County.

Based on the great turnout at last Friday's Coalition meeting, it's obvious Warren is not alone in his crusade. A standing-room-only crowd was a sure fire way to leave a lasting impression with the state's top transportation official.