By Woodrow Polston
Last week representatives from the Missouri Department of Transportation held a public meeting at the Audrain County Courthouse in Mexico. Attending the meeting were local landowners, legislators, commissioners and other members of the public. Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Alan Winders opened the meeting.
“I would like to welcome you to the Audrain County Courthouse tonight for this meeting,” said Winders. “I thank you all for being here. I want to make clear that this is not a meeting specifically about Highway 54. This meeting involves unfunded needs in all of northeast Missouri, which effectively runs from Highway 63 to Illinois and Hwy. 70 to Iowa. There is currently a study and survey underway for the Highway 54 coalition but there will be other meetings for that specifically,” he added.
Winders introduced Paula Gough, who is the northeast district engineer for MoDOT. She began the presentation with a description of the area that would be discussed.
“We are representing 17 counties in the northeast district,” said Gough. “We cover from the Iowa line south of the Missouri River and from the Mississippi River to the 63 corridor. Today, we are sharing where we are at with unfunded needs to solicit input for projects. Missouri is federally required to lay out at least five years worth of projects that we will go to construction with. So, every year our highway commission approves a five-year construction program. We work with our local transportation regional planning commission, we work with our MoDOT staff and we seek public input. All of this goes into a statewide transportation improvement program,” she added.
Missouri’s transportation system is a tremendous asset including 33,825 miles of roads and 10,387 bridges. The system ranks among the largest for any state in the nation. On average, Missouri drivers pay $32 per month in fuel taxes and fees to fund the maintenance and improvements to this asset. Over the last 10 years, Missourians have invested in 4,221 projects totaling $10.7 billion to maintain and improve the system. Looking forward, $7.75 billion is estimated to be available for projects over the next five years for additional improvements. Including design and project development costs, the FY2023-2027 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program totals $10 billion, the largest in state history.
Even with additional revenue, transportation needs greatly outweigh funding available, and we are working through the challenges of increasing project costs due to higher inflation,” said MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna. “Across every region of the state, feedback from Missourians has consistently prioritized maintaining the existing system as the highest priority. Other priorities include projects that improve safety, spur economic growth, and provide more transportation choices. We appreciate Missourians input in this new draft as we work to prioritize the projects that provide the greatest value to taxpayers,” he added.
Missourians have repeatedly communicated the No. 1 goal for MoDOT is to take care of the existing system of roads and bridges, so the majority of taxpayer dollars for transportation are invested in asset management projects. Current funding levels are only sufficient to maintain the transportation system in its current condition leaving many transportation needs unfunded. Although the latest Citizen’s Guide identifies $825 million in annual transportation needs, MoDOT has applied inflation bringing this number to $1 billion, which totals $10 billion over 10 years. Gough explained a tier system for unfunded needs.
“We have identified three different tiers of unfunded needs,” said Gough, as she pointed to the projection screen. “Tier one being what really needs to be done in the next five years. Tier two being what needs to be done in the next five to 10 years, and tier three represents 10 to 20 years out from now. There are $1 billion in needs out there. Everything involved and all information is available on our website. This is where it all starts, in small meeting such as this and I am pleased to see people here from all over the district tonight,” she added.
MoDOT staff have worked with metropolitan planning organizations and regional planning commissions throughout the state to develop a list of high priority unfunded road and bridge needs. The draft project-specific lists include $4.7 billion in road and bridge projects in three tiers. Tier one includes $528 million and includes projects that could be accomplished in the time of the current five-year STIP as federal and state funding levels increase. These projects have good estimates. Tier two is worth $2 billion and includes projects beyond the current STIP time frame with broader estimates. Tier three includes $2.2 billion worth of projects also beyond the current STIP time frame with broader estimates. In addition, MoDOT staff worked with the planning partners to identify $1 billion in multi-modal needs.
The draft document and comment forms will be available online through Dec. 21 at https://www.modot.org/unfundedneeds. For more information, call MoDOT at 888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636) or visit Modot.org.