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Representatives from the NEMO RPC Transportation Advisory Council appeared before the state transportation board in Hannibal to address concerns about low volume roads.
HANNIBAL, MO — 8/4/2021 – Representatives from the Northeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission took the podium at the August 4th meeting of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission to address regional transportation issues, in particular, low volume roads.
The 18-member Transportation Advisory Council (TAC), which has three members from each of the six NEMO RPC counties – Adair, Clark, Knox, Lewis, Schuyler and Scotland, took advantage of the MHTC being in Hannibal for its August 4th meeting to testify before the state’s transportation leadership.
Council vice-chair Mari Macomber, the Kirksville city administrator, opened the presentation, announcing to the Commission an enhanced sense of engagement being generated by the current TAC membership, which has become more educated and informed on the transportation needs of the region, and is more willing to make the efforts such as this, to share that information with the state’s leadership.
NEMO RPC Executive Director Derek Weber opened his presentation by thanking the MHTC and MoDOT for recent work planned to try to remedy some of the poor pavement conditions on low volume lettered routes in this corner of the state.
“But because those efforts were necessary, we would like to start a conversation with hopes of improving options planning partners such as ourselves have to ensure lagging low volume road conditions can be adequately prioritized in areas of need,” he told the commissioners. “Part of that conversation involves asking the question, could MoDOT and the state benefit from establishing a separate, dedicated funding formula/category for low volume roads? Right now, low volume roads appear a lot like the runt of the litter, finding it very difficult to wrestle with all of the other bigger, more important funding needs, and it feels like they are at risk of being squeezed out.”
With more than 11,000 miles of low volume roads (under 400 average daily traffic), more than 30% of the state highway system falls into this category. The issue is even more important in northern Missouri, where the northeast and northwest districts are home to 46% of all of the state’s low volume routes.
“These two districts obviously depend more on these lettered routes than most of the other areas of the state, where roughly three quarters or more of the lane miles are instead minor and major routes,” said Weber. “It is important to our regions because a significant number of citizens simply do not have any other alternative to get to work or school every day.”
While funding from the construction program pays for pavement improvements for heavily traveled roads, like interstates and U.S. highways, the rural areas of Schuyler, Scotland, Clark, Knox, Lewis and Adair counties rely on the operations funds to maintain a combined 1,615 lane miles of low volume roads.
Using the MoDOT Citizen’s Guide to Transportation Funding in Missouri, there was $143 million distributed to the 17-county MoDOT Northeast District for construction, operations, administration and safety in 2020. A total of $89 million went to construction, meaning 62% of the funds went to STIP projects, which essentially do not include low volume roads. Low volume road work instead, traditionally would come out of the $52 million the district received for operations, which also includes the costs for staff and expenses for maintenance such as snow removal and mowing in addition to maintenance of the low volume roads.
“This seems to offer far less opportunity for planning partners to specifically target and prioritize needs and also creates less transparency around how and where the money is actually spent relative to these specific low volume road needs being monitored by planning partners like us,” Weber told the Commission.
Statewide MoDOT budgeted $548 million for operations, with $222 million spent on road maintenance, or roughly 40% of the operations funding.
“After all of the mowing and snow removal are funded, there are 4,016 lane miles of low volume roads in the Northeast District left to maintain,” said Weber. “With 100% of the low volume road funding coming via maintenance out of the operations fund, that resulted in 1,306 lane miles of poor rated low volume road pavement in the Northeast District, including 772 lane miles alone in the NEMO RPC’s six counties of Adair, Clark, Knox, Lewis, Scotland and Schuyler.”
Weber pushed the discussions toward the funding formula, which MoDOT uses to allocate resources to various areas of need. He noted, that while the existing formula steers much of the resources to areas of high populations and high traffic counts, it needs to also consider the variety of factors such as geology, materials and labor costs, and weather that vary from region to region and have significant impacts on how far operation funds can be stretched, a position that was echoed by Terry Ecker, MCTH Commissioner from the Northwest Missouri District.
“When the formula was implemented that we are currently using, the roads in northern Missouri were not in the shape that they are today,” said Ecker. “In my opinion, in my way of looking at it, that proves the formula is broken, it doesn’t work for today. We’ve got to do better.”
Ecker highlighted areas of the state where low volume road conditions are much better than the 53% rated good in the NEMO RPC, yet those districts are still receiving larger allocations of funding for the state asphalt plan.
“Much of what we do, starts at the local level, the grassroots, and a planning commission like yours, pushing those priorities up, is the key,” said MHTC Chairman Tom Waters. “You are doing the right thing, being here, talking about this. A lot of folks in the room are tired of hearing us preach about low volume roads, but I’ll tell you we are going to keep looking at it, we are going to keep working on it. We have made it a priority to look at, but there is more to be done there. If planning commissions like yours continue to push it up from the bottom and we can work at it from the top, we’re going to get there.”
Please find attached a copy of the full presentation by Weber.
A video recording of the complete hearing may also be viewed at: https://youtu.be/ r8G6f4lYS9M
For more information on NEMO RPC: