Missourians desire more from their transportation system, but due to funding constraints the Missouri Department of Transportation will be hard-pressed to deliver what they want.
That’s what the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission was told last week when MoDOT Director Dave Nichols presented a draft of the state’s Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).
The federally required plan will guide transportation decision making for the next 20 years and is the result of a seven-month effort. Through a public engagement program called “On the Move,” MoDOT conducted 17 listening sessions around the state and completed a series of mobile tours that visited Missourians where they live, work and play to learn their vision for transportation. The mobile tours traveled more than 25,000 miles to 232 communities in every county of the state.
“We received more than 12,000 project suggestions from the public,” Nichols said. “Combined with needs we identified in collaboration with our planning partners around the state, it’s clear that what Missourians want from their transportation system far exceeds the $17 billion we forecast will be available for transportation over the next 20 years.”
Based on the input received, four goal areas were established:
· Take care of the transportation system and services we enjoy today.
· Keep all travelers safe, no matter the mode of transportation.
· Invest in projects that spur economic growth and create jobs.
· Give Missourians better transportation choices (more viable urban and rural transit, friendlier bike and pedestrian accommodations, improvements in rail, ports and airport operations).
“I’m impressed at the lengths to which MoDOT went to learn what Missourians want from their transportation system,” Commission Chairman Joe Carmichael said. “But in our current situation, in just a few years we’ll have a hard time just maintaining the system of roads and bridges that we have, much less doing anything to address these other goal areas. It’s clear that an investment in transportation is going to be needed, or tough choices will need to be made.”
After a six-year period during which MoDOT’s construction budget averaged $1.2 billion per year, it has fallen to about $700 million this year, and projections are that by 2019 it will be $425 million.
“About 70 percent of our revenue comes from fuel taxes, license fees and sales tax on motor vehicles,” Nichols explained, “and by law can only be spent on roads and bridges. The fuel tax has served us well for many years, but it is now a diminishing revenue stream. Cars are more fuel efficient and people are driving less.”
Additionally, fuel taxes have not changed in 20 years; a period during which concrete, asphalt and steel prices have increased two to three times, decreasing MoDOT’s purchasing power and making it difficult to do business.
“We’ve taken extreme efforts to put every possible dollar into the system,” Nichols said. “We’ve cut our staff by 1,200, closed buildings and sold equipment. But the bottom line is that we cannot cut ourselves to a better transportation system.”
The release of the draft starts a 45-day public comment period. Nichols said, “We want to know, ‘Is this the transportation system you want? Did we miss anything?’ ” Interested persons are invited to visit the LRTP website at missourionthemove.org, where they may electronically enter their comments. The plan is depicted visually on the website through a series of videos and animations. There is also a link to the plan’s executive summary and to the plan’s full technical report.
Hard copies are also available at MoDOT’s central office in Jefferson City and at the district offices in St. Joseph, Hannibal, Kansas City, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Sikeston and Springfield.
“This plan should be of interest to every Missourian because transportation is an issue that touches everyone,” Carmichael said. “We will continue to look to Missourians for help in sharpening the vision for transportation in our state.”