MODOT seeks public input on future projects, funding

Thursday, July 17, 2008

As the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) faces impending financial constraints, the department is seeking public input on future projects and funding ideas.

"Much of the work that has gone on so far has been due to the success of the Amendment Three program," said Lori Marble, MODOT southwest district public relations. "As the end of the program approaches, MODOT wants to know what the people want to see happen with the roads."

In addition to new construction projects, Amendment Three, which was approved in 2004, allowed MODOT to complete $2.1 billion in improvement projects in 2005 and 2006. This work was completed under the Smooth Roads Initiative, which addressed 2,200 miles of road across the state.

"People can know that MODOT has done what they wanted in the past," said Marble. "Missouri went from having some of the worst roads in the country to some of the best. To continue these improvements it is imperative to have a conversation on how to move forward."

In addition to the end of the Amendment Three program, MODOT's funding is being affected by rising gasoline and diesel costs.

"Regardless of if gas is $1 or $10 per gallon, MODOT gets 17 cents per gallon," said Marble. "As the price goes higher and people purchase less gas, MODOT receives less funding. The price of a gallon of gas means nothing to the department, but this is contributing to funding going down."

MODOT will also be negatively impacted by a decrease in federal funding, a problem that will affect transportation departments across the country, said Marble.

"Plus, construction material costs as a whole are going higher and people are either trading in or not purchasing large, expensive vehicles, which means smaller sales tax for the department," said Marble. "Everything is coming together at the same time.

"We are nearing the end of the Amendment Three funding and nearing the time to begin paying the money back," said Marble. "Everything will come to a head in 2010 during our fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2009. We are around one year away from strong financial constraints."

According to MODOT's funding brochure "Falling Off the Cliff," this year's construction program total will be $1.23 billion. In 2010, the funding total for construction projects will fall to $569 million, which will only fund maintenance projects.

The department has predicted that it will need over $37 billion to meet the state's critical transportation needs over the next 20 years. As funding decreases, the department will only have around $19 billion to invest in new construction projects.

"As part of the attempt to find ways to fund the department, MODOT wants to hear from those who drive on the roads each day," said Marble.

The department will use regional planning commissions to gather public input on future projects and funding ideas.

Barry County is represented by the 10-county Southwest Missouri Council of Governments. Local representatives are Cassville business leader Phil Hutchens and Barry County Northern Commissioner Frank Washburn.

"During the five-year STIP (statewide transportation improvement plan) we are not going to be seeing a lot of additional construction," said Marble. "We will see MODOT maintaining what is already in place. We don't want to fall behind on where we have gotten to at this point.

"Where we get to and how we decide to work on our needs depends on the planning committees," said Marble. "The legislators have ideas on how to address the decrease in funding, but there is no one clear direction on where to go."

MODOT has developed a booklet that includes a list of 66 critical unfunded road and bridge projects that were scheduled to be completed within the next 20 years.

The list includes the Highway 37/60 Corridor Improvement Project, which will add four-lanes from Monett to the Arkansas line on Highway 37 and from Monett to the James River Expressway north of Republic on Highway 60.

"The booklet and a Power Point presentation can be taken locally to chambers of commerce or other organizations," said Marble. "We can come out and show the public what the bigger projects are and discuss local needs."

Marble invites interested organization leaders to call MODOT's southwest district office at 417-629-3300 to schedule a presentation.

Although the Highway 37/60 Corridor Improvement Project will not be completed within the near future, MODOT's five-year STIP does include several projects that will be completed in Barry County.

A $2.553 million bridge rehabilitation project that will include painting and deck work on the Highway 39 Table Rock Lake Bridge in Shell Knob is scheduled to begin in 2012.

MODOT's plan also includes a $3.6 million resurfacing project and a $23.34 million capacity improvement project for Highway 60 in Monett. Both of these projects are scheduled to begin in 2011.

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