August 30, 2001

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we could not only have our improved roads sooner, but at a lower cost and with a guaranteed warranty from the builder? That is the current buzz being created by Koch (pronounced Coke) Performance Roads, a subsidiary of Koch Industries of Wichita, KS, the nation's second largest privately held company with deep ties to the oil and gas industries (hence their interest in more roads.)

Koch Performance Roads has made presentations at recent meetings regarding Highways 36 and 63 regarding road improvements. At a recent meeting regarding completion of the four-lane project on Highway 63 from Macon to Kirksville, the Koch group stated it could complete the 21 mile stretch of road in two years at a much cheaper price than under current MoDOT projections.

That stretch of the road is not currently on the MoDOT five-year plan. At current costs the project is estimated at $35-$38 million. However under inflation and projected cost increases, the same project is expected to cost as much as $47 million simply because MoDOT will wait at least five years to build it. Another cost savings would be the scale of the projects, with the company building the entire road at one time instead of spreading it out in sections over an extended period of time.

The Koch presentation at the recent meeting of the private Highway 63 Transportation Corporation pointed out the logic of making the project happen as soon as possible. Under the plan, the local private sector would pay interest on the project until MoDOT could ultimately repay the principal on a loan to build the project now. This would likely require the passage of some form of tax, most likely a sales tax. They noted that this process would be less costly today because of low interest rates. So, in other words if we support this issue, it will be sort of like putting a four-lane highway on layaway.

Okay this all sounded good to everyone until that last part about the new sales tax. However, most people would be more receptive to a new transportation tax if they knew for a fact where the money would be spent. I suspect it ultimately will sound to good to be true and make many skeptical, but on the face of the proposal it sounds like a good idea to me.

I have not heard much feedback on the idea, but I wonder if MoDOT will not come out in opposition to the idea. It would be easy to oppose their ideas when someone comes out to the public and says they can do your job faster and less costly and plays to the heart strings of the communities that have for so long being trying to have roadway issues addressed by the state. Worse case scenario, the transportation industry takes a look at the Koch proposals and borrows some of their innovative ideas to help streamline this entire process.

The Koch company will be responsible for the warranty on the roadway, meaning they will definitely want to produce the best road possible. The roads will be built sooner than later, with the only additional cost to we taxpayers being the interest on the loans. Let's face it folks, we are going to have to pay higher taxes for improved transportation, so why not do it in the form of a local sales tax that you can guarantee will be spent locally. My only question is how do we get Koch Performance Roads to make a proposal for the remainder of Highway 61?

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