August 2, 2007

MoDOT Engineer Outlines Local Projects During Meeting in Memphis

While the State of Missouri has seen its highway system improve by leaps and bounds in the past few years, officials are not as optimistic about the prospects of continuing this success story without a change in the funding forecast.

Paula Gough, district engineer for the Northeast Missouri Regional Office of the Missouri Department of Transportation, met with local officials at the Scotland County Courthouse on July 26th but did not let the bleak outlook defeat the opportunity to discuss the transportation needs of the region.

Gough said the good news is that MoDOT is working on fixing a pair of problems on Highway 15 south of Memphis.

Engineer Kevin James indicated he and Gough had reviewed the site prior to the meeting. James stated MoDOT had been considering replacing the small bridge on Highway 15 just east of the fair grounds. During the review he also advised that a similar trouble spot on the road near the Timber Ridge Golf Course will be addressed.

James told the commission that plans are to install new tubes at both places, allowing the roadway to be widened slightly at the narrow stretches of Highway 15.

It will depend on the results of the hydraulic study, but it doesnt appear that the drainage area requires such a significant flow area, James said. If we can cut down the flow area, the bridge could be replaced with two tubes.

Built in 1923, the small bridge shows some deterioration and also poses traffic flow issues because of the narrow passageway.

The crossing near the golf course, would not replace a bridge, but would simply insert a newer, larger tube that would support a slightly wider roadway.

Gough pointed out that plans like these, using more cost effective methods to attain the transportation goals of the state have helped Missouri improve its road system.

However she noted that even with these successful efforts, the transportation picture looks a bit bleak in the next few years as a looming drop in funding has officials concerned.

On July 18th the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved a new five-year transportation construction program that shows spending for Missouris roads and bridges will plummet in fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1, 2009.

The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, identifies all transportation projects planned by state and regional planning agencies for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 (July 1, 2007-June 30, 2012). It reflects a large amount of highway construction in 2008, largely due to additional funding from voter-approved Amendment 3. However, stagnant state fuel taxes, lagging federal revenue and increasing construction, maintenance and fuel costs will cause highway funding to fall off a cliff in 2010.

We go from a construction program totaling $1.23 billion in 2008 to an annual program of $569 million beginning in 2010, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn said. During the first half of the STIP, about $1 billion of Amendment 3 major projects will be delivered. However, as Amendment 3 bond proceeds run out, the last half of the STIP shifts primarily to a maintenance program with some safety projects and limited major project work.

Gough told local officials that the funding would basically revert to the 1998 level.

This isnt something that has caught MoDOT totally off guard, Gough said. We saw it coming, so we are working under the guidelines that this is going to happen, meaning we have been making some tough decisions on where to spend the money.

Tom Deberry, an officer with the local Highway 136 Committee, praised the work MoDOT has done in northeast Missouri. With the improvements to Highways 63, 61 and 36 we are seeing progress across the region, he stated. He added that MoDOT has also addressed several issues on Highway 136 in recent years.

Commissioner Paul Campbell also praised MoDOTs success on the highway systems. However, he pointed out the need for maintenance of the smaller lettered roads that are maintained by the state.

I really feel that these lettered roads are in serious trouble in the next year or two, he said. They are in bad enough condition now that most of them cant be patched.

An extreme winter as well as increased heavy traffic related to the growing number of larger pieces of farm machinery traveling the routes have led to some of the conditions on the states lettered routes, Gough said.

She indicated that MoDOT was anticipating several similar concerns to be expressed at the upcoming state transportation panel, where area planning commissions would be outlining needs and concerns regarding local roadways.

Campbell agreed that this was not a situation unique to Scotland County and noted he understood the demographics that forced much of the states transportation money to be spent on more highly traveled routes. Yet he encouraged MoDOT to devise a plan to address the problem while it still could be fixed.

That was a viewpoint reiterated by director Rahn, who stated it would be a major setback to see the vast improvements made to Missouris highways in recent years deteriorate because of a lack of future funding. Two recent national reports cited Missouris gains in highway conditions, while keeping administrative and project costs low. Both reports also pointed out an $18 billion gap in funding over the next 20 years and the need for additional funding.

Rahn said he was pleased Missouri officials have raised the need for additional funding. Both Sen. Bill Stouffer and Rep. Neal St. Onge have proposed legislation to bring in additional revenue for transportation, and the Missouri Transportation Development Council recently hosted a forum to discuss future funding options.

The highway construction program July 18th includes more than 770 highway and bridge projects, as well as funding for aviation, railroads, waterways and public transportation. The STIP totals approximately $6.5 billion over the five-year period. It includes $5.06 billion for highway and bridge projects, $760 million for other modes of transportation, and $700 million for city and county transportation programs.

Rahn said the program has three goals: to finish planned road and bridge projects as promised, improve the condition of major roads and repair or replace more than 800 bridges statewide.

A vital element in developing our transportation program is local involvement, said Rahn. Local citizens statewide have been part of deciding which projects will be built first. We appreciate their help in planning Missouris road and bridge improvements.

For a complete list of projects or for more information, contact MoDOTs customer service center at 1-888-ASK-MODOT (275-6636), visit the departments Website at http://www.modot.org/ or call the local MoDOT district offices.

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