The director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Patrick McKenna, said his department will “focus limited resources” on preserving as much of the existing road system as possible, but that tight finances mean the department can “only tread water” as other roads and bridges deteriorate.
He made the comments after the Missouri Highways and Transportation on June 29 Commission approved a new five-year statewide transportation improvement program, or “STIP.”
MoDOT Transportation Planning Director Machelle Watkins told commissioners the STIP includes 605 new projects that invest in 2,247 lane-miles of interstate highway pavements, 3,302 miles of major route pavements, 7,462 miles of minor route pavements and 499 bridges.
The STIP document said 866 bridges were listed in poor condition, while 1,303 were weight-restricted. The planned number of bridge improvements, it said, will mean that “the state’s number of poor condition and weight-restricted bridges do not increase.”
“Our legislature and the citizens of Missouri have told us loud and clear to take care of this system,” McKenna said. “This plan does just that. We focus limited resources on maintaining current conditions through every region of the state.”
He added: “However, limited funding enables us to only tread water. We improve roads and bridges at the same rate that others fall into disrepair.”
Missouri has the nation’s seventh-largest state highway system, MoDOT said, with 33,873 miles of roadways and 10,394 bridges.
Inside the STIP document, the department explained that a state bonding program in 2004 and an infusion of extra federal dollars from the 2009 economic recovery law “supported a booming construction program” from 2005 to 2010. But from 2011 through 2016, it said, “MoDOT’s construction budget significantly declined.”
It also noted that about 67 percent of MoDOT revenues come from per-gallon motor fuel taxes, which have not changed since 1996 at the state level and since 1993 at the federal level, as project costs increased.
MoDOT said its other sources of state revenue include sales tax, vehicle and driver licensing fees, interest earned on invested funds and miscellaneous collections, plus a small portion of general funds. “Revenue collected through these avenues has remained relatively flat in recent years,” it said, “with the exception of sales taxes which are projected to grow 4.5 percent annually through 2019 and 4 percent thereafter.”
It summed up, saying: “With the cost of concrete tripled, steel prices doubled and asphalt costing more than twice what it did 20 years ago, this means Missouri is trying to fund its current transportation needs with a budget that is almost two decades out of date. It should come as no surprise that under these circumstances MoDOT struggles to maintain and preserve the current system.”
The department said past annual transportation project awards to contractors were as high as $1.2 billion a year with about 50 percent going to maintaining the existing infrastructure. The new STIP, it said, allows for average annual contractor awards of about $890 million, of which “nearly 84 percent is aimed at taking care of the existing system.”
The result, MoDOT said, is: “The opportunities to expand the system – widening a busy two-lane road to four lanes to reduce congestion and make systematic safety improvements, or building a new roadway or interchange to help promote business development and bring jobs to the state – are minimal. The financial capacity to reconstruct and modernize our interstate system is also minimal.”
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